Israeli officials slam 'secret talks' to restore Palestinian control

Israeli officials slam 'secret talks' to restore Palestinian control
An Israeli minister and members of Knesset on Monday criticised reports of secret negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority over reducing Israeli military presence in the occupied West Bank.
3 min read
15 March, 2016
Zeev Elkin [left] opposed talks of restoring Palestinian control in the occupied West Bank [Getty]
Reports of secret talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority over reducing Israeli military presence in the occupied West Bank were slammed by Israeli minister Zeev Elkin on Monday.

Published in Israeli daily Haaretz, reports said that Israel and the Palestinian Authority were engaged over the last month in talks about gradually restoring Palestinian security control over cities in the occupied West Bank.

"During the talks, Israel proposed that Ramallah and Jericho be the first cities the [Israeli forces] will withdraw from if the measure succeeded, and it would expand to other West Bank cities," Haaretz reported.

But Elkin, a member of Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu's Likud party and security cabinet said that ministers were not aware of such plans and that if true, the talks were being held behind the security cabinet's back.

"We members of the security cabinet didn't know about this and I personally oppose this idea totally," he said on Israeli radio.

"I demand that the defence minister update the cabinet immediately about the negotiations being held behind our backs, and stop any progress in this dangerous direction without an in-depth discussion and approval by the security cabinet," Elkin said.

A joint statement issued by some members of the Israeli Knesset also criticised the reports.

"Anyone who imagines we have a partner who we can trust apparently wasn't here for the last 20 years," the statement said, Hareetz reported

"Instead of withdrawal plan, we must vanquish terrorism and initiate full control and sovereignty in all our land."

Under peace agreements Israel handed control of main West Bank cities to the Palestinians in 1996, but in 2002's  "operation defensive shield" it retook them following a deadly attack on the Israeli coastal resort of Netanya.

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Since then Israeli forces regularly enter at will.

On Friday, they raided the offices of a Palestinian television station in the heart of Ramallah, the West Bank political capital and seat of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Ramallah and the main Palestinian cities are in the zone, known as "Area A", designated under the Oslo peace accords as under full Palestinian rule.

But some 60 percent of the West Bank is under full Israeli occupation.

Haaretz said that under Israel's proposal its forces would reserve the right to enter "Area A" to counter imminent threats of attacks.

It said the Palestinians rejected the demand as contrary to the Oslo treaties.

But the Israeli minister said restoring even partial Palestinian security control would "invite" a surge in attacks on Israelis.

Since October, a wave of violence has killed 194 Palestinians, 41 of them under the age of 18.

Most of the Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli forces while allegedly attempting knife attacks against Israeli soldiers.

Twenty-eight Israelis and five foreign civilians have been killed in the same period.

The UN and human rights groups have voiced concern that Israeli security forces are responding to attacks with excessive force.

Israel denies the charges and claims that a Palestinian campaign of incitement is fuelling the violence.

Palestinians say attacks are rooted in frustration stemming from nearly five decades of Israeli military occupation.

Agencies contributed to this report.