JERUSALEM – U.S.-backed negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians are expected to generate an agreement by the end of the year that would set up a Palestinian state in the West Bank and eastern sections of Jerusalem, according to a source who has participated in the talks.
In one of the first media glimpses into the current negotiations, a source who takes part in the regular meetings outlined for WND the main objectives of the secretive negotiations.
Since last November’s Israeli-Palestinian Annapolis summit, which set as a goal the creation of a Palestinian state before 2009, negotiating teams including Israeli Foreign Minister Tzippy Livni and chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia have been meeting weekly while Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have been meeting biweekly.
Unlike previous Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in which both sides attended with about a dozen advisers each, the teams working with Livni and Qureia are small, usually consisting at most of five people each.
Also unlike previous talks, in which the contents of many meetings were leaked quickly to the media, the current negotiations have resulted in few press leaks.
According to the source who has been playing a role in the meetings, the two sides are drafting an agreement, to be signed by the end of the year, requiring Israel to evacuate most of the West Bank and certain eastern sections of Jerusalem.
The source said Israeli community blocks in the zones of Gush Etzion, Maale Adumin and Ariel would remain Israeli while most of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem will be slated for a Palestinian state.
In contradiction to statements by Olmert, the status of sections of Jerusalem is being negotiated but the specifics of any agreed-upon Israeli withdrawal is as yet unclear, said the source.
“It is understood [Jerusalem] Arab neighborhoods would become part of a Palestinian state,” the source said.
The source told WND both sides agreed Israel would retain Jerusalem’s Pisgat Zeev neighborhood, which is located near large Arab communities. Many of those Arab towns were constructed illegally on property owned by the Jewish National Fund, a Jewish nonprofit that purchases property using Jewish donors funds for the stated purpose of Jewish settlement.
The source said the U.S. pledged advanced training for thousands of PA security officers who would take over security in the West Bank and eastern sections of Jerusalem and operate in those territories instead of the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli police.
The U.S. previously has trained thousands of Palestinian security officers, including units in which known members of Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorist group serve. Scores of those security forces have carried out terrorist attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians, including recent deadly shootings in the West Bank.
But the source claimed the planned U.S. training is different:
“This training is unlike anything before. The PA, Israel and the U.S. are working very closely to vet the forces. All sides are approving the training candidates. The training is more advanced than ever. It will create a very serious Palestinian army,” said the source.
The source said as part of the negotiations, Abbas has agreed to hold early PA elections in the West Bank by 2009, including presidential elections that could replace the Palestinian leader.
PA elections previously have been held simultaneously in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The source’s description of planned new elections only in the West Bank implied the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip would be treated as a separate entity
Leaders from the Hamas terrorist organization, which swept the last municipal elections, stated the past few days Hamas would agree to early elections. The Hamas leaders also said for the first time ever, their organization would propose a candidate to compete with Abbas’ Fatah group in PA presidential elections.
The source speaking to WND about the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations said while a signed agreement and PA security force training can be expected before the end of the year, it has not yet been determined when any Israeli withdrawals would be implemented.
He said Olmert would be headed to new Israeli elections with an Israeli-PA agreement in tow.
The source said the U.S. is “very deeply involved” in all aspects of the negotiations.
To demonstrate the level of U.S. involvement, the source pointed to recent U.S. supervision of Israeli commitments to dismantle about 50 West Bank anti-terror roadblocks and to bulldoze what are called illegal outposts, or West Bank Jewish communities constructed without government permits.
“The U.S. oversaw the removal of each and every roadblock, making sure the roadblocks were actually removed,” said the source.
“Also, even though Israel prepared a report of all illegal outposts and handed it to the Americans, U.S. officials have been doing their own very specific independent investigating to find each and every illegal outpost and then oversee their dismantlement,” the source said.
U.S. training of the PA security forces already started last month at U.S.-controlled bases in the Jordanian village of Giftlik, according to Israeli security officials. Over 600 elite PA soldiers are enrolled in the current course, which includes training in the use of weapons, conducting ambushes, fighting street crime, fighting terrorism, and dealing with hostage situations, among other things.
After the unit is finished training in Jordan, they will continue with more advanced training courses at a U.S.-run base in the West Bank city of Jericho.
All training is being directly overseen by Gen. Keith Dayton, the U.S. security coordinator to the Palestinian territories.
As a test of the PA’s abilities, a battalion of about 600 PA officers recently trained by the U.S. is set to deploy in the West Bank city of Jenin, which is considered a sanctuary for Palestinian terrorist organizations.
The U.S. and Israel will monitor closely the officers’ activities but it wasn’t immediately clear how the success or failure of the Jenin force would impact the deployment of other such forces since the Jenin force was deployed despite recent negative U.S. reports of PA security forces.
A U.S. security report last month concluded the PA is failing to fight terrorism. The report was compiled by Gen. William Fraser, who was deployed to the region to monitor implementation of agreements pledged by Israel and the PA at Annapolis.
Fraser’s report slammed the PA for failing to arrest, interrogate and place terrorist suspects on trial. The report said the PA occasionally carries out arrests of suspected terrorists, but usually only following pressure from Israel or the U.S. The arrested terrorists, the report said, are rarely interrogated or tried but instead are briefly detained.
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