President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House
JERUSALEM – The Obama administration is pushing Israel to hand the Palestinian Authority full control of a major neighborhood in Jerusalem as a so-called confidence-building gesture to jumpstart Israeli-PA negotiations, WND has learned.
According to sources both in the PA and in the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Obama administration has demanded the following from Israel as “confidence-building gestures” toward the Palestinians ahead of any negotiations:
- That Israel scale back roadblocks and checkpoints in the strategic West Bank to near the levels of such measures prior to the Palestinian intifada, which started in September 2000. Israel says roadblocks and checkpoints are crucial security measures in stopping terrorist attacks.
- That Israel release about 2,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.
- That Israel ease its siege of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The siege applies only to materials that Israel believes will be used by Hamas to enhance its military apparatus. Basic foods, medicine, supplies and even monetary exchange flows into Gaza regularly.
- That Israel turn over to the PA full control of key West Bank cities that are currently under security control of Israel due to threats. The demand includes what are known as areas B and C. B, as defined by the 1993 Oslo Accords, encompasses cities administered by the PA but patrolled by Israel. C comprises cities under full Israeli control.
WND has learned that as part of its demands, the Obama administration is asking Israel to transfer to the PA the town of Abu Dis, a largely Arab neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem that borders key Jerusalem roadways and is home to about 12,000 residents. Some Arab homes in the neighborhood are built illegally on Jewish-owned land.
Netanyahu is said to strongly oppose the demand, arguing that only negotiations can determine the future borders of Jerusalem.
The demand, if enacted, would be unprecedented for any previous Israeli-Palestinian talks. The Jewish state has never been asked to withdraw from any Jerusalem territory in exchange for starting negotiations.
Sources in Netanyahu’s office told WND that any change of the status quo in Abu Dis would signal that Israel is willing to forfeit the strategic neighborhood.
The officials said that while former Prime Minister Ehud Barak discussed the neighborhood in talks with late PLO leader Yasser Arafat, later negotiations under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did not come to any conclusion.
“They are asking us to go beyond what Olmert started, and this would only be as a precondition for further talks,” said a source in Netanyahu’s office of the U.S. demand.
Already as a “confidence-building gesture,” Netanyahu, acting under heavy U.S. pressure, in November announced a 10-month halt to all Jewish construction in the West Bank in an attempt to jumpstart talks aimed at creating a PA-led state.
The Obama administration is also demanding a total halt to all Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem as a precondition to jumpstart talks. Netanyahu has refused an official freeze; however, almost no new Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem has been approved since last month.
Meanwhile, the PA has not been asked to make any major gestures to Israel to jumpstart talks. The U.S. has not demanded the PA recognize Israel as a Jewish state.