Though two senior Palestinian officials told The Associated Press on Saturday that Secretary of State John Kerry gave Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a letter guaranteeing that new peace negotiations with Israel will be based on pre-1967 borders, Israeli ministers and an unnamed Western official are now denying that claim.
Two senior Israeli politicians are calling the pre-1967 borders "Auschwitz borders," because it would leave Israel only nine miles wide at its narrowest point, would expose Ben-Gurion International Airport to the threat of close-range rocket fire and in their opinion would leave Israel with indefensible borders.
"Nine miles is less than the distance from Barack Obama's Chicago home to Wrigley Field," the American Thinker wrote last month.
Israeli Tourism Minister Uzi Landau slammed the notion that Israel would agree to return to its previous geographic size before being attacked by Arab armies during the Six Day War. He told Ynet, "Whoever speaks of the 1967 borders speaks of Auschwitz. Whoever pushes for negotiations based on the 1967 boundaries, even with border adjustments, actually speaks of 1967 borders. We must negotiate with no preconditions and without prisoner release."
Former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman wrote on his Facebook page that Israel must not agree to predicate negotiations on the pre-1967 borders, quoting late Foreign Minister Abba Eban who "called them Auschwitz borders" since they would guarantee Israel's destruction.
Lieberman also said Israel should make clear to the Palestinians that "there will be no construction freeze. Not in Jerusalem and not in the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria."
If Israel were to withdraw to 1967 borders, it would split Jerusalem in two, give up access to the Old City including the Western Wall and Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, and withdraw from the Golan Heights, ceding it to either Syrian President Bashar Assad who is allied with Iran and Hezbollah or to the rebels fighting him, many of whom belong to Al-Qaeda linked groups. This would give Israel's arch-enemies the strategic high ground overlooking most of northern Israel.
Like the AP, The Wall Street Journal also quoted a senior Palestinian official who said Kerry told Abbas that the talks would be based on the 1967 lines.
Contradicting the AP reports, The New York Times Saturday quoted an unnamed Western official who said, "There are no terms of reference or any other agreements that the '67 lines will be the basis for negotiation."
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon echoed that sentiment, saying [emphasis added]: "We have expressed our willingness to negotiate immediately, anywhere, and without preconditions. We insisted on entering negotiations without preconditions, which included Palestinian demands to declare the 1967 borders, freezing of construction and release of prisoners."
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon also insisted that pre-1967 borders are a non-starter for Israel. "I trust the prime minister that he knows we cannot discuss a return to the 1967 borders. We must not repeat the injustice of the [2005 Gaza] Disengagement and uproot thousands of Jews from their home."
In 2011, President Barack Obama publicly endorsed the Palestinian position that their future borders be based on the pre-1967 lines.
"The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states," Obama said.
Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz expressed concern about even negotiating with Abbas, since Gaza is ruled by Hamas which opposes any reconciliation with Israel, and thus he doesn't represent all Palestinians.
"Abu Mazen (Abbas) rules over Palestinians less than (President Bashar) Assad rules in Syria," Katz said, according to Reuters.
"Just as no one would consider ceding any territory to Assad in the current situation, so certainly no one is thinking seriously of ceding territory to Abu Mazen (Abbas) at time when he doesn't completely rule over most of the Palestinian population," Katz added.
Hamas echoed that sentiment in a statement slamming the announcement of new negotiations:
"Abbas has no legitimacy, his stance goes against Palestinian nation's belief that there can be no negotiations with the Zionist entity. Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have no authority to deal on behalf of the Palestinians and any negotiation carried out in the name of the Palestinian people without authority is illegitimate," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said, according to Israel Hayom.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday tried to assure both his ministers and the public that any agreement will be put to a referendum.
"We are now making an effort to resume the diplomatic process. I see this as a vital strategic interest of the State of Israel, first of all because we want peace," Netanyahu said, adding "it will be put to a referendum."
Elaborating on the referendum proposal, Netanyahu added according to a transcript posted on the Prime Minister's Office website, "I believe that this is necessary. I do not think that such decisions can be made, if indeed an agreement is achieved, by this or that coalition process; it must be put to the people for a decision."
"...these will not be easy negotiations, but we will enter into them with integrity, sincerity and the hope that this process will be conducted responsibly, seriously and substantively, and, I must say, at least in the opening stages, discreetly," Netanyahu said.
The Palestinian officials told the AP that Kerry's letter also said that both sides are not to take steps that would jeopardize the talks, that is, Israel would not offer new housing contracts in Judea and Samaria and the Palestinians would refrain from working against Israel at international organizations like the United Nations.
Other Palestinian officials are not sure Abbas actually received a written letter from Kerry.
"Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is going to resume negotiations based on verbal promises. He has no guarantees that a Palestinian state will be formed on the basis of the 1967 borders, that there will be a settlement freeze or that our prisoners will be released," a senior Palestinian Authority official told Israel Hayom.
Israeli Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio, "There will be some release of prisoners," adding that some of them would be "heavyweight," that is, convicted of terror attacks against Israelis.
In order to agree to return to peace talks which have been stalled since 2010, the Palestinians are demanding release of some 100 Palestinian prisoners, using the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations and an Israeli settlement construction freeze.
Kerry announced the resumption of peace talks on Friday after six visits to the region to try to bring the sides closer together.
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