Palestinians reject Israeli offer to hand over 91.5% of W. Bank

Palestinian officials close to peace talks said Sunday that Israel has offered a West Bank withdrawal map that leaves about 8.5 percent of the territory in Israeli hands, less than a previous plan but still more than the Palestinians are ready to accept.

Also Sunday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted as telling backers that the negotiations have achieved no progress since they were restarted last November with a pledge to U.S. President George W. Bush to try for a full peace treaty by the end of the year.

The Palestinian officials said Israel presented its new map three days ago in a negotiating session. The last map Israel offered had 12 percent of the West Bank remaining in Israel. Israel wants to keep West Bank land with its main settlement blocs, offering land inside Israel in exchange. The land would be between Hebron in the southern West Bank and Gaza – at least part of a route through Israel to link the two territories.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the negotiations are being conducted behind closed doors, said Palestinians were ready to trade only 1.8 percent of the West Bank for Israeli land.

Israeli officials refused to comment.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that progress has been made in several areas, but he refused to give details out of concern for harming the negotiations.

The differences in evaluations have a wide range of possible explanations.

Abbas needs to show quick concrete results from the talks to persuade his skeptical people that the negotiations are worthwhile – but he complained that while the talks drag on, Israel continues construction in its West Bank settlements and maintains its network of security roadblocks and checkpoints that have choked off economic and social life there.

On the Israeli side, Olmert needs success to shore up his sagging domestic popularity, stung by his inconclusive war in Lebanon in 2006 and harmed further by a string of corruption cases. He was interrogated in the latest one on Friday. Olmert insists that at least a declaration of principles is attainable by the target date.

One of the Palestinian officials said the 8.5 percent figure of West Bank land Israel would retain with its new map does not include east Jerusalem, where Israel has built a string of Jewish neighborhoods it intends to keep. Israel wants to put off dealing with Jerusalem, possibly the touchiest issue on the table, until the end of the process. Israel’s previous proposal to keep 12 percent did not include east Jerusalem, either.

Abbas indicated skepticism about the prospects of the renewed talks.

Nothing has been achieved in the negotiations with Israel yet, Abbas told a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, according to a report Sunday in the Fatah-associated al-Ayyam daily and confirmed by meeting participants.

“Domestic issues in both Israel and the U.S. are diverting attention from peacemaking,” Abbas told Fatah leaders.

“I fear the (corruption) probe against Olmert and the American preoccupation with the (presidential) elections will negatively affect the negotiations,” Abbas said, according to a member of the council, Salah Taameri.

Ref. Haaretz

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