Palestinians say ready for direct talks with Israel

The Palestinians are prepared to renew long-stalled peace talks with Israel and to agree to “minor” territorial concessions, according to a counter-proposal to a contentious US plan.

A Palestinian Authority text sent to the international peacemaking Quartet and seen Monday by AFP, says the Palestinians are “ready to resume direct bilateral negotiations where they stopped,” in 2014.

Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said on June 9 that the PA had drafted a response to the US proposal but did not previously mention direct talks with the Israelis.

Israel’s coalition government has set July 1 as the date from which it could initiate action on US President Donald Trump’s Middle East controversial peace proposals.

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said Monday however that with new coronavirus infections still on the rise, any annexation of West Bank territory must wait.

“Anything unrelated to the battle against the coronavirus will wait until after the virus,” he said. His office later clarified that he was referring specifically to the annexation plan.

The Trump proposal paves the way for Israel to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, including Jewish settlements considered illegal under international law.

“If Israel declares the annexation of any part of the Palestinian territory, that will necessarily mean the annulation of all signed agreements,” the PA wrote in a four-page letter to the Quartet of the United Nations, United States, Russia and the European Union.

“No one has as much interest as the Palestinians in reaching a peace agreement and no one has as much to lose as the Palestinians in the absence of peace,” it said 

“We are ready to have our state with a limited number of weapons and a powerful police force to uphold law and order,” it said, adding that it would accept an international force such as NATO, mandated by the UN, to monitor compliance with any eventual peace treaty.

The text also proposes “minor border changes that will have been mutually agreed, based on the borders of June 4, 1967”, when Israeli forces occupied the West Bank.

– ‘Annexation is illegal’ –

Announced at the end of January in Washington, the Trump plan also envisions the annexation by Israel of  the Jordan Valley in the West Bank.

More than 450,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements deemed illegal under international law, alongside 2.8 million Palestinians.

Washington’s proposals provide for the creation of a Palestinian state, but on reduced territory and without the Palestinians’ core demand of a capital in east Jerusalem. 

The plan had previously been rejected in its entirety by the Palestinians.

The European Union opposes it and is demanding that Israel abandon its annexation ambitions.

The UN’s human rights chief said on Monday that such annexation would be in breach of international law.

“Annexation is illegal. Period,” Michelle Bachelet the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement condemned by Israel.

“Any annexation. Whether it is 30 percent of the West Bank, or five percent,” she added.