Israel mulls temporary Palestinian state, says Minister

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JERUSALEM: Israel is likely to offer Palestinians a state within temporary borders, the country’s defense minister was quoted as saying Tuesday, detailing for the first time an emerging Israeli plan for breaking the deadlocked peace negotiations.

Though the Palestinians repeatedly have rejected provisional statehood, Ehud Barak told The Wall Street Journal that Israel or the United States would have to give assurances that a full-fledged agreement on permanent statehood would follow.

Barak also told the newspaper that Israel might seek an additional $20 billion in US military aid to help it deal with potential threats arising from the turmoil in the Arab world.

While characterizing the popular upheavals in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and the Gulf as "a historic earthquake" and "quite inspired," Barak said Israel was worried that its top foes, Iran and Syria, "might be the last to feel the heat" of the revolts and that Egypt’s new leaders might, under public pressure, back away from its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

"The issue of qualitative military aid for Israel becomes more essential for us, and I believe also more essential for you," the newspaper quoted Barak as saying. "A strong, responsible Israel can become a stabilizer in such a turbulent region."

Israel already receives $3 billion in military aid a year from the US
Without making a "daring" peace offer, however, Israel cannot seek additional aid, Barak was quoted as saying.

To that end, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to offer the Palestinians a state with temporary borders, he said. Only afterward, would the two sides would resolve key issues of the conflict, such as competing claims to Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees, Barak added.

No details of the plan were given.

With popular protests shaking up the Mideast, Netanyahu is under fierce international pressure to prove he is serious about getting peacemaking moving again, especially after the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s West Bank settlement construction last month.

In the past week, Israeli officials have said Netanyahu was considering a "phased approach." Although that was widely interpreted to mean a temporary state, they would not say so explicitly. Barak was the first to publicly spell that out.

A Netanyahu spokesman, Mark Regev, said Barak’s remark "can stand on its own."

The prime minister is said to be planning a speech — possibly to be delivered in Washington — in which he will outline his plans.

It is not clear that the US would support the idea of an interim accord, given the Palestinians’ categorical rejection of the notion.

A temporary state would not only give the Palestinians less territory than they demand, but Israel would also retain military control of the area. The Palestinians are also afraid that it they agree to temporary borders, then they will never win a full-fledged, independent state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip.

Israel captured all three areas in 1967, then withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Hamas militants overran the territory two years later.

"If and when Israel offers its own thoughts on how to move the process forward, we will be listening attentively," White House spokesman P.J.

Crowley told reporters in Washington on Monday. "We do not know what the prime minister and his government are thinking at the present time."

US-led peace talks, launched six months ago with the ambitious goal of striking a final deal by September 2011, broke down shortly after they began over Israeli construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The Palestinians demanded a freeze in both areas, but Israel refused, arguing that previous rounds of talks took place while settlement construction was under way and that the issue should be settled in negotiations.

With peacemaking stalled, the Palestinians have launched a campaign to seek international recognition of Palestinian statehood. Their tentative plan is to seek UN General Assembly recognition in the fall, a move that might not win them an actual state but might isolate Israel.

Last week, Barak predicted a "tsunami" of international pressure on Israel in the fall and said that to protect its standing, the Israeli government had to take unspecified initiatives.

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