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News Analysis: Netanyahu possibly drawing own peace map

(Xinhua)

09:01, September 01, 2011

JERUSALEM, Aug. 31 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has over the last nine months been holding consultations with Danny Terza, a former army officer and advisor to former prime minister Ehud Olmert and foreign minister Tzipi Livni, on the issue of potential borders between Israel and the future Palestinian state.

Terza drew the map that Olmert presented to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Mahmoud Abbas in 2008, which included an Israeli withdrawal from nearly 93 percent of the West Bank and land swaps to compensate for the remaining percentages. He also advised Livni on the map she used in negations with PNA officials.

"Netanyahu could come up with borders, but that doesn't mean there will be an agreement at anywhere reachable," Galia Golan of the Inter-Disciplinary Center in Herzliya told Xinhua Wednesday.

While Netanyahu's office did confirm that the meetings took place, spokesmen pointed out that "no border line was decided upon at the meetings, and no agreed map was drawn."

UNACCEPTABLE MAP

If the meetings were to result in Netanyahu presenting a map, it would be the first time that he has done so, a step that both the Israelis and Palestinians have criticized him for not taking previously.

While analysts said there could be any number of reasons for the sessions between the two, Itzhak Galnoor from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem wasn't so sure that a new map was in the making.

"Israeli Supreme Court has been talking about the security fence on the West Bank," Galnoor said, pointing out that Netanyahu 's meeting with Terza could be dealing with the fence issues, because Terza was involved in planning its route.

However, Golan said it would make sense for the two to discuss borders, considering Terza's involvement in previous negotiations with the Palestinians, and if for no other reason, "to see what the story was" in previous bilateral sessions.

Although Golan said she wouldn't be surprised if Netanyahu announced that he was willing to resume the negotiations, she doubted if the prime minister would reach an agreement with the Palestinians.

Any map that Netanyahu would come up with, she said, would be unacceptable to the Palestinians due to territorial demands it would include, such as continued Israeli control over the Jordan Valley.

POLICY NOT CHANGED

Dan Schueftan of the University of Haifa believe that meetings with Terza wasn't a major modification of policy by Netanyahu but rather a continuation on the guiding principles outlined in the so- called Bar-Ilan speech in 2009.

"From Netanyahu's point of view, these meetings don't mean a change in policy, but (mean) that he wants to better understand the significance of different borders in the West Bank," Schueftan said.

The speech at Bar-Ilan University was the first time the prime minister publicly gave his backing to the two-state solution of the Jewish and Palestinian nations existing side-by-side.

Schueftan described Terza as an expert on borders and someone who knows the West Bank very well. Terza lives in the settlement of Kfar Adumim, east of Jerusalem.

Where the border between Israel and an independent Palestinian state would be drawn has been one of the central questions since the peace negotiations started in early 1990s. Major points of disagreement over the years, however, have included the status of Jerusalem, which Israel claims as its "eternal and indivisible capital," while the Palestinians want the eastern part of the city as their own capital.

INDEFENSIBLE BORDERS

Other sticking points between the two sides include the fate of the large Israeli settlements such as Ariel in northern West Bank, Maale Adumim in the east of Jerusalem, the Gush Etzion bloc of communities in the south, as well as the strategically important Jordan Valley that runs along the West Bank's border with Jordan.

Schueftan said that Netanyahu has never been against discussing borders in the past, as long as certain preconditions are met first. For instance, he insists that the Jordan Valley remain under the Israeli military control and the three large settlements remain within Israeli territories.

The importance that Netanyahu places on these areas was clearly shown in May when U.S. President Barack Obama suggested that the cease-fire lines that existed prior to the 1967 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors be the starting point for negotiations on the borders.

Netanyahu strongly rejected the idea at a meeting on the following day. Directly addressing Obama at a press conference, Netanyahu said that such a move would leave Israel with " indefensible borders" if it were to relinquish control over the Jordan Valley.

As well, if Israel holds on to the settlements along the central mountain highlands overlooking the coastal plain, its central area would become vulnerable to the Palestinian rocket attacks, according to Netanyahu.

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