March 10, 2014
Palestine's Abbas proposes three-year Israeli withdrawal from West Bank
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas proposed today that Israel carry out a gradual three-year withdrawal from the occupied West Bank as part of any future peace deal, an offer that fell short of Israeli demands.
He gave the timeframe in an interview shown at an international security conference in Tel Aviv, where Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon challenged the effectiveness of the Palestinian leader's current security commitments.
"I am saying that clearly: whoever proposes 10 or 15 years for a transition period does not want to withdraw," Abbas said. "We say that a transitional period not exceed three years, during which Israel can withdraw gradually."
Abbas has spoken in general terms in past meetings with journalists of a phased pullout from the West Bank after a final land-for-peace accord, similar to Israel's three-year withdrawal from Sinai after it signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979.
Israel's demand for a continuing military presence in the Jordan Valley, the likely eastern border of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has been a major issue of contention in US-brokered peace talks that began in July and have since stalled with the two sides still far apart.
Israeli officials have called such a deployment vital to their country's security, voicing concern the West Bank could become a staging ground for Palestinian militant attacks if Israeli troops pulled out completely. Some officials have advocated a 40-year Israeli military presence.
Appearing to address such fears, Abbas said the Palestinians were willing for a third party such as NATO, the US-led alliance, to "take Israel's place after the withdrawal ... to assure both sides that things will continue as normal".
Foreign powers have been helping to build up Abbas's security services in the West Bank and ward off any challenge from breakaway Hamas Islamists who control the Gaza Strip.