Israel, Palestinians draw lines before Kerry plan

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 31, 2013 at 9:45 am •  Published: December 31, 2013
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RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Israeli and Palestinian politicians on Tuesday staked out "red lines" they claimed their leaders would never cross once presented with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's widely anticipated proposal for the outlines of a peace deal.

Kerry is to arrive in the region on Thursday to present a framework for peace to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Although the State Department said he isn't demanding final answers during this trip, it appears both leaders face tough decisions in coming weeks.

On Tuesday, the focus was on the West Bank's Jordan Valley, a strategic area along the border with Jordan that Israeli hard-liners, including members of Netanyahu's Likud Party, say must be annexed by Israel.

The Palestinian Cabinet moved its weekly Cabinet meeting to the valley to stake its claim to the area, while the pro-settler caucus in Israel's parliament said it would dedicate a new neighborhood in an Israeli settlement in the valley.

In a sign of simmering tensions, suspected Jewish vandals set three cars on fire in a West Bank village and sprayed graffiti on a wall reading "Regards to Kerry."

There has been a flurry of political declarations as Kerry prepares to present his ideas for the parameters of a peace deal. Kerry has kept his proposals under wraps, but the traditional U.S. positions on solving the conflict are known and Kerry has dropped hints, including in a policy speech earlier this month.

There has been growing expectation that Netanyahu will be asked to recognize Israel's pre-1967 war frontier as a baseline for drawing the borders of a Palestinian state, while allowing for some modifications and land swaps.

Netanyahu long has opposed this principle, apparently because it would imply Israeli readiness to give up most of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

Palestinian officials, meanwhile, fear that Kerry will ask Abbas to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. Abbas has rejected this in the past, with his aides saying such recognition would mean abrogating the rights of Palestinian refugees who dream of returning to lost properties in what is now Israel. The refugees, along with their descendants, now number several million people.

Officials on both sides warned that their leaders will face widespread opposition if they concede to Kerry.

Most of the Likud will reject the recognition of the pre-1967 war frontier as the starting point for border talks, said Danny Danon, Israel's deputy defense minister.

"We will not adopt the ideology of the left, even if it comes from Kerry," Danon told The Associated Press.

Wasel Abu Yousef of the PLO Executive Committee said Abbas can't recognize Israel as a Jewish state at the start of the negotiating process because of the implications for the refugees. "Whatever happens, this issue is a red line we can't accept," he said.

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