Drop Palestinian statehood plan: Israel to Germany

Israel captured West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war.

Jerusalem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will ask Germany`s leader in a meeting this week to drop a proposal to endorse a Palestinian state in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem as the end point of Mideast negotiations, Israeli officials said on Wednesday.

Germany, Britain and France support that position, and are expected to bring it up at a meeting of Mideast mediators next week as a way of restarting long-stalled talks. The Palestinians have said they won`t resume talks with the hardline Netanyahu unless there`s a clear framework and Israel halts all settlement construction in Israeli-occupied lands they want for their state.

Netanyahu argues that spelling out the end point would limit Israel`s negotiating room and that endorsing Palestinian positions on borders would remove a key incentive for them to restart talks.

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war.

Netanyahu has said he would not give up east Jerusalem, the Palestinians` hoped-for capital, and has not said how much of the West Bank he is prepared to give up. He has said Israel needs to keep West Bank areas with large Jewish settlements or those close to major Israeli population centres.

Israel withdrew from Gaza, now under the control of the Islamic militant Hamas, in 2005.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed this week that Britain, France and Germany believe negotiations should be based on "1967 borders, with land swaps, a just settlement for refugees and Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states."

Officials close to Netanyahu said he would raise Germany`s position with Chancellor Angela Merkel at a meeting in Berlin on Thursday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a sensitive diplomatic matter.

Spokesmen for Germany`s Foreign Ministry and Merkel have said that there is no new joint German-French-British proposal.

Israel fears the "Quartet" of Mideast peacemakers — the European Union, United Nations, Russia and United States — will endorse the European initiative when it meets in Germany later this month.

It remains unclear whether the full Quartet — especially the US — supports the proposal. In Washington, a US official said the administration is cool to the idea but had not ruled it out.

Two of Netanyahu`s predecessors conducted talks with the Palestinians based on those guidelines, but no agreement was reached.

Merkel`s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said Thursday`s talks with Netanyahu would be "politically intense”, but said "the chancellor speaks to Israel explicitly as a friend”.

At the same time, Palestinians are proceeding with plans to get the United Nations to endorse a Palestinian state, with or without a peace agreement, in September.

Israeli officials say the international community should not take a stand on key issues like borders while remaining vague on matters of concern to Israel. These include security arrangements and the fate of Palestinian refugees and their millions of descendants who Palestinians publicly insist must be allowed to move to Israel.

A survey published on Wednesday by Israeli and Palestinian pollsters showed that a third of Palestinian respondents supported an attack last month in which five members of an Israeli family — parents and three of their children, ages 11, 4 and 3 — were stabbed to death in their home in a West Bank settlement. The March 11 attack, which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called "despicable, immoral and inhuman”, is assumed to have been carried out by Palestinian militants.

The poll found 63 percent opposed the attack and 32 percent backed it.

The pollsters, from Hebrew University and the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research surveyed 1,270 Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem. The margin of error was 3 percentage points.

Also on Wednesday, the Israeli military indicted a soldier for unbecoming conduct, abuse and illegal use of a weapon, the military said. The daily Haaretz reported that military investigators discovered photos on the soldier`s cell phone showing him and his comrades humiliating blindfolded Palestinian prisoners in the West Bank.

Bureau Report

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