Israeli minister slams reported secret talks with Palestinians

AFP , Monday 14 Mar 2016

Israeli minister Zeev Elkin on Monday slammed a reported offer to reduce Israeli military operations in cities of the occupied West Bank and restore Palestinian security responsibility.

Elkin, the country's immigration minister and a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet, said ministers were not notified of such an initiative.

The Haaretz daily said that according to "senior Israeli officials familiar with the contacts", Israel and the Palestinian Authority have being holding secret negotiations over the past month for a gradual restoration of Palestinian security control over West Bank cities.

"During the talks, Israel proposed that Ramallah and Jericho be the first cities the (Israeli military) would withdraw from; if the measure succeeded, it would be expanded to other West Bank cities," it reported on Monday night.

"Senior Israeli officials told Haaretz the talks were currently stuck but not dead and could resume," it said on its website.

Netanyahu's office did not immediately respond to AFP's request for comment.

Since the start of October, Israeli occupation forces have killed at least 193 Palestinians. Meanwhile, almost daily stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks by frustrated and unarmed Palestinians have killed 28 Israelis, two Americans, an Eritrean and a Sudanese, according to an AFP count.

The current wave of protests by Palestinians and repression by Israeli occupation forces started in late July when toddler Ali Dawabsha was burned to death and three other Palestinians were severely injured after their house in the occupied West Bank was set on fire by Israeli settlers.

Settlement-building, racial discrimination, confiscation of identity cards, long queues at checkpoints, as well as daily clashes and the desecration of Al-Aqsa mosque, describe Palestinians' daily suffering.

"We members of the security cabinet didn't know about this and I personally oppose this idea totally," Elkin, of Netanyahu's Likud party, told Israeli public radio.

Under peace agreements Israeli occupation forces handed control of main West Bank cities to the Palestinians in 1996, but in 2002's "Operation Defensive Shield" it retook them following a deadly suicide bombing in the Israeli coastal resort of Netanya.

Since then Israel occupation forces regularly enter at will.

On Friday, they raided the offices of a Palestinian television station in the heart of Ramallah, the West Bank political capital and seat of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Ramallah and the main Palestinian cities are in the zone, known as "Area A', designated under the Oslo peace accords as under full Palestinian rule.

Some 60 percent of the West Bank is under full Israeli control.

Haaretz said that under Israel's proposal its forces would reserve the right to enter Area A to counter imminent threats of militant attack, known in security circles as "ticking bomb" scenarios.

It said the Palestinians rejected the demand as contrary to the Oslo treaties.

Elkin said restoring even partial Palestinian security control would invite a surge in attacks on Israelis.

"In Area A about 80 percent of the work which ensures the security of the state of Israel is done by the (Israeli) army and security forces," he said.

"In the midst of the terror wave enveloping us, to pass responsibility to the Palestinians seems to me a very, very problematic idea."

The anger of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem has increased in the last three years after the Israeli authorities allowed increasing numbers of Jewish settlers to storm the Al-Aqsa mosque.

The surge in violence has been fuelled by Palestinians' frustration over Israel's 48-year occupation of land they seek for an independent state, and the expansion of settlements in those territories which were captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

Palestinian leaders say a younger generation sees no hope for the future living under Israeli security restrictions and with a stifled economy. The latest round of US-brokered peace talks collapsed in April 2014.

*The story has been edited by Ahram Online.

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