Most Israelis object to withdrawing to pre-1967 borders, poll says


Most Israelis would oppose any peace deal with the Palestinians that involved withdrawing to pre-1967 ceasefire lines, even if land swaps were agreed to accommodate Jewish settlements, a poll showed on Tuesday.

The survey by the liberal Israeli Democracy Institute showed 65.6 percent of those questioned did not expect to see a deal in talks between Israel and the Palestinians within a year.

The talks resumed last month after a three-year hiatus. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said he hopes a peace agreement that has eluded the parties for decades can be achieved within nine months.

But even if Israel manages to defy skeptics and secure an accord, the poll, jointly sponsored by Tel Aviv University, suggested it would struggle to sell it to its people.

Of the 602 people questioned, 55.5 percent said they were against Israel agreeing to the 1967 lines, even if there were land swaps which would enable some Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to remain part of Israel.

Among Israel's majority Jewish population, opposition to such an agreement was 63 percent, while among Israeli Arabs, a minority group, only 15 percent objected to such a deal.

The issue, which refers to the lines that existed before the Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors, is considered key to sealing any deal.

Some 67 percent of all Israelis said they would also oppose Palestinian demands for a return of a even a small number of refugees who either fled or were driven away when Israel was created in 1948. They were also against compensating the refugees or their descendents financially.

On one of the other issues facing negotiators, the question of whether Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem should become part of a Palestinian state, some 50 percent of Israeli Jews said they were against the idea.

Only 55 percent of Israeli Arabs were in favor, fewer than might be expected, suggesting Arab residents of East Jerusalem did not want to lose advantages of living under Israeli government control, such as health and national insurance benefits, the IDI said.

After an opening round of talks in Washington a week ago, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have agreed to meet again during the second week of August.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the next round of discussions would be “soon.”

“We have said they would meet in the region, but we have not made an announcement about an exact date yet,” she said, adding that the talks would be led by U.S. envoy Martin Indyk.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is also facing an uphill task trying to sell the talks to his people, even within his Palestine Liberation Organization — an umbrella body that includes many leading political factions.

In a statement on Tuesday, two groups – the Popular and the Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine — called for the talks to be suspended, denouncing them as “a repetition of pointless and harmful negotiations” held since the early 1990s.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mugrabi in Gaza and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Sonya Hepinstall

Obama asks Netanyahu to start negotiating as Kerry ends 6th round of meetings


U.S. President Barack Obama telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to urge him to resume negotiations with the Palestinians.

Obama called Netanyahu on Thursday, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting with Palestinian negotiator in Amman, Jordan, on Kerry’s sixth visit to the region in recent months to jumpstart peace talks. Kerry is scheduled to leave on Friday.

“The President encouraged Prime Minister Netanyahu to continue to work with Secretary Kerry to resume negotiations with the Palestinians as soon as possible,” the White House said in a statement. The statement also said the leaders also talked about security issues in Egypt, Iran and Syria.

Israel Army radio quoted an unnamed senior Israeli source as saying that Obama “urged Netanyahu to start negotiating with the Palestinians as soon as possible.”

Reports say that the Palestinians are ready to resume talks if Israel agrees to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 lines.

Kerry met Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat in Jordan on Friday to discuss resuming peace talks with Israel, Reuters reported. The Palestinian leadership on Thursday did not accept Kerry’s latest proposal to restart the talks that have been stalled since 2010, but signaled they were leaving the door open for him to continue his peace push, according to Reuters.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Mary Harp said on Thursday that “the situation is fluid and they are following it closely.” She added that the State Department will not respond to rumors circulating in the media.

Netanyahu spokesman denies Israel open to 1967 border formula


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman denied on Thursday Israel had agreed to a formula for new talks with Palestinians based on the border of their future state being drawn along lines from before a 1967 war, with agreed land swaps.

An Israeli official had earlier told Reuters that if the Palestinians accepted the formula, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry could announce the relaunch of peace talks. He would describe the future Palestine as existing alongside a “Jewish state” of Israel.

But Mark Regev, a spokesman for Netanyahu, called Reuters and said “the report is untrue”. Netanyahu's office had earlier declined to comment on what had been said by the first official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Kerry is visiting the region and hoping to find enough common ground for Israel and the Palestinians to renew peace talks stalled since 2010.

Israel has previously balked at agreeing to the 1967 borders as a basis for talks. Netanyahu demands that the Palestinians explicitly recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Asked about Reuters' initial report that Israel had agreed to the 1967 formula, a U.S. official cautioned that “there is a great deal of inaccurate information out there right now and our focus is continuing to work through details with both parties”.

Kerry said on Wednesday after talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan that gaps between the sides had “very significantly” narrowed.

An Arab League committee said proposals for resuming peace talks made by Kerry, which have not been made public, “provide the ground and a suitable environment to start negotiations”.

Writing by Dan Williams and Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Andrew Roche

Israeli officials welcome Arab League peace plan


The Prime Minister's Office of Israel said it was ready to restart negotiations without preconditions after welcoming the Arab League's Middle East peace plan allowing for agreed-upon land swaps.

In a statement issued late Tuesday on behalf of Israeli diplomatic officials, the Prime Minister's Office said Israel “welcomed the support given by the Arab league delegation and the U.S. secretary of state to the diplomatic process.” It also said that Israel was ready to restart negotiations immediately without any preconditions, and that the “two sides can present their positions in the negotiations.”

The statement came after Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani, speaking on behalf of the Arab League, said Monday during a visit to Washington that the Arab countries favor a peace deal based on the 1967 borders, but would agree to “comparable” and “minor” land swaps on which the two sides agree.

In a meeting Wednesday with the senior management of the Foreign Ministry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not mention the Arab League statement. He did say, however, that an agreement with the Palestinians must be reached “that will prevent Israel from becoming a binational state, but will provide stability and security,” Haaretz reported, citing two unnamed ministry officials who attended the meeting.

The Arab League delegation met with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, who has visited the Middle East three times since taking his post.

Kerry has been working with the Arabs and Israelis to accept a modified version of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative offering Israel a comprehensive peace with the Arab countries in exchange for all land captured in 1967. Saudi Arabia introduced the initiative, which was accepted by the Arab League.

Leaked document: Netanyahu backed land swaps


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the United States in early 2009 that he supported land swaps in a peace agreement with the Palestinians, a leaked document shows.

Netanyahu also said in the meeting with a delegation of U.S. officials in Israel two weeks after Israel’s last national election that Israel does not want to control Gaza and the West Bank, according to a WikiLeaks cable released Monday.

The document, sent Feb. 26, 2009 from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, reported that Netanyahu presented his “economic peace” doctrine, which he said would prop up the Palestinian Authority in its fight against radical Islam.

In response to the document, the Prime Minister’s Office issued an official response saying that Netanyahu intended to show that he was willing to make territorial compromises in the framework of a peace treaty. 

“This is the public policy of Netanyahu, this is policy today and it was his policy during his February 2009 meeting,” the statement said. “Any other interpretation isn’t correct and doesn’t represent the prime minister’s stance.”

The WikiLeaks website, which publishes classified documents from anonymous sources and leaks, released about 250,000 secret diplomatic cables Sunday.