JERUSALEM – Newly installed Israeli President Shimon Peres has held a secret meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad at his official residence in Jerusalem, it was disclosed today during an interview with Al Jazeera.
Israeli diplomatic sources told WND during the recent meeting Peres presented Fayad with a plan WND reported Peres quietly drafted for the Jewish state to evacuate and transfer to the Palestinians nearly the entire West Bank and several Arab Israeli cities located within territory that undisputedly is Israel’s according to the international community.
The West Bank is strategic territory that runs alongside Jerusalem and is within rocket range of Tel Aviv and Israel’s international airport. It is home to many biblical Jewish communities and some of Judaism’s holiest sites.
Peres has also presented his initiative to top European Union officials, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and to top aides for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the past few weeks, after he took office as Israeli president last month, diplomatic sources in Jerusalem told WND.
The official role of president here is limited largely to ceremonial matters; the president is not allowed to lead foreign policy.
Olmert, Abbas, Fayad and the EU are mulling over the plan, said the diplomatic sources, who stated Olmert agrees with much of the plan’s contents.
Peres confirmed he had met with Fayad during an interview with Al-Jazeera slated for broadcast today. The Israeli president also told Al Jazeera he invited Abbas to meet with him.
Peres’ plan calls for Israel to hand 97 percent of the West Bank over to Abbas, with Israel retaining a small number of the territory’s Jewish communities. In exchange for Israel keeping some land, the Jewish state will give the PA control of Arab Israeli cities north of Tel Aviv which, together with the evacuated West Bank territory, would amount to the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank.
Diplomatic sources said aside from aides to Abbas and Olmert, Peres has presented his plan to European Union officials. Top EU diplomats in recent days told the media they want a U.S.-sponsored international conference scheduled for November to lead to negotiations on a final agreement with the Palestinians.
That international conference and talk from the Bush administration the past few weeks has led many here to speculate the U.S. will push in the near future for intense Israeli-Palestinian negotiations leading to a Palestinian state.
With a year and a half left in office, Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have been urging meetings between Abbas and Olmert to establish a framework for momentum leading to a breakthrough at November’s conference. Olmert and Abbas have been meeting bi-monthly in summits brokered by the U.S.
According to Israeli and Palestinian diplomatic sources, the meetings are being used by Olmert and Abbas to draft the outline of a permanent status deal ultimately yielding a Palestinian state scheduled to be aired in public at the November summit.
Israel to give up Temple Mount?
Palestinian negotiators drafting the agreement behind the scenes with Olmert’s office have made clear they will not accept any final peace deal with Israel unless the Jewish state forfeits the Temple Mount, said a chief Palestinian negotiator, speaking on condition of anonymity.
According to a report in Israel’s Yediot Aharonot daily last week, Olmert is willing to discuss joint Israeli-Palestinian control over the Temple Mount complex. The report didn’t state the positions of the Palestinian side on the issue.
Asked by WND whether Olmert is willing to forfeit the Temple Mount in an agreement with the Palestinians, David Baker, a spokesman for the prime minister, had no comment.
Already Olmert during the meetings has granted a number of security concessions to Abbas regarding increased Palestinian control of the West Bank.
The Israeli prime minister last month granted amnesty to 178 gunmen from Abbas’ Fatah organization who comprise most of the senior leadership of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the declared military wing of Fatah that is responsible for every suicide bombing in Israel the past three years.
Olmert reportedly is considering granting amnesty to 206 more Brigades terrorists. According to Palestinian officials, the Israeli Prime Minister already informed the PA that Fatah gunmen are largely immune from Israeli anti-terror raids regardless of whether they are officially on Olmert’s amnesty list.
Also, Olmert is strongly considering removing hundreds of Israel Defense Forces roadblocks and checkpoints situated in strategic sites located throughout the West Bank. The IDF sees the checkpoints as crucial in helping stop terrorists, including suicide bombers, from infiltrating Jewish cities.
As well, in a little-reported but major move, Israel last week started allowing armed Palestinian policemen to patrol areas in the West Bank that fall under Israeli security control according to the 1993 Oslo Accords. Security in the territory, referred to as Area B, is supposed to be ensured by the IDF, which still monitors the area but has allowed for an unprecedented stepped-up armed Palestinian security presence there.
In response to the renewed momentum toward a Palestinian state, rabbis for the Yesha Council of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria – the West Bank – yesterday slammed the Israeli government for considering major concessions.
The council released a statement expressing “concern at the irresponsible diplomatic moves being made during these days, the main point of which is the consent to the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria. These moves are founded upon irrelevant considerations of political survival, and are being made in total opposition to the opinion of the defense establishment.”
Peres overstepping his boundaries?
When Peres assumed the role of president last month, political analysts and pundits here widely expected him to defy the limits of his office and take a hands-on role in Israeli diplomacy and policy making.
According to Knesset sources, Peres is contemplating even asking lawmakers to officially expand the role of the president to include conducting foreign policy.
During Peres’ acceptance speech last month, he called for Israel to retreat from the West Bank. The next day, he called for direct negotiations with Syria, which is hosting top Palestinian terror leaders and supporting the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, which last summer launched thousands of rockets into Israeli population centers. Syrian President Bashar Assad warned several times the past few months his country is preparing for war.
Peres, Israel’s longest standing Knesset member, was considered the driving force of the 1993 Oslo Accords. The Peres Peace Center, headed by the new president, advocates the division of Jerusalem and Israeli withdrawals from the strategic West Bank and Golan Heights.
Peres repeatedly has come under fire by critics for policies and plans many say would greatly undermine Israel’s security if implemented.
An official biography of the elderly statesman released earlier this year, entitled “Shimon Peres,” revealed a draft agreement he hammered out with West Germany in 1961 to allow the creation of German military bases on Israeli soil less than two decades after the Holocaust.
The biography also detailed a controversial plan Peres concocted to lease French Guyana from France and create an Israeli colony there at a time when the nine-year-old Israel was desperate for immigrants and struggling to establish itself.
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