US Officials: Netanyahu Suggested Plan to Establish Palestinian State in Sinai

US Officials: Netanyahu Suggested Plan to Establish Palestinian State in Sinai

Friday, 12 January, 2018 - 09:45
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony. December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Tel Aviv- Asharq Al Awsat
Weeks after rumors of an "Arab plan" to settle the Israeli-Palestinian struggle by establishing a Palestinian state in Sinai, Egypt, US administration's top officials revealed on Thursday that the plan was suggested by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Four years ago, Netanyahu asked the Obama administration to consider a plan in which Israel would annex large parts of the West Bank, and the Palestinians would in return receive land from Egypt in the northern part of Sinai.

The Prime Minister's Office issued a rushed statement denying the former officials' account, stating that "this story is not true."

The four officials declared that Netanyahu raised the idea with US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry on a number of occasions, according to Haaretz.

The officials also said that Netanyahu told Obama and Kerry that in his view, it was possible to convince Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi to accept the idea. However, Egypt was direct in rejecting the plan, and US administration came to a conclusion that Palestinians would also reject it.

According to the officials, the plan suggested by Netanyahu to Obama and Kerry is somewhat similar to those mentioned in a number of recent news reports about the Trump administration’s peace plan.

The White House, however, strongly and consistently denied such report and confirmed that the peace plan “will benefit Israelis and Palestinians and will be revealed when it is done and the time is right.”

Netanyahu announced that he will meet President Trump in Washington in March, and maybe before that, to discuss several issues that concern both countries including the Arab-Israeli struggle.

But according to the former officials, Netanyahu himself first discussed the issue with Obama back in the Fall of 2014. “It started shortly after the 2014 Gaza war,” one of the officials said.

“Netanyahu came to meet Obama in the Fall of 2014, and his pitch was basically: ‘John Kerry’s peace talks fell apart a few months ago, we just had a war, and now the peace process is stuck. So I want to offer you a different kind of idea,” he added.

The Prime Minister told Obama and Kerry that under his new plan, Israel would annex a large part of West Bank. “He used the term ‘settlement blocs’ but didn’t provide a map that actually defines those blocs," one of the officials said.

But the idea was the majority of the West Bank would still eventually become a future Palestinian state, but the “compensation” given to the Palestinians for the land annexed by Israel would come not in the form of a land swap with Israel itself, but instead, through attaching northern Sinai to Gaza.

“We all thought this idea was a waste of time,” one of the officials said, adding: “we knew it would be a complete non-starter for the Palestinians – why would they trade agricultural lands in the West Bank, close to their largest cities, for sand dunes in Sinai?”

Another top official declared that northern Sinai contains one of the toughest battles against ISIS-inspired in the world. "Why would the Palestinians agree to take responsibility for it, in return for Israel getting to keep more of its settlements? It didn’t make sense to us,” he wondered.

According to the four officials, when the Obama administration asked Egyptian officials about the idea, the reply was negative.

In addition, the plan was not even discussed during the 2016 secret summit held in Aqaba, Jordan, and attended by Netanyahu, Kerry, Sissi and King of Jordan.

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