U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has presented Israel and the Palestinian Authority with a security outline stating that Israel would be able to maintain a military presence in the Jordan Valley for 10 to 15 years following the signing of a permanent peace deal, the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam reported Tuesday.
Throughout the peace talks, Israel's official position on the matter was that the Israel Defense Forces must maintain full military control of the area, while the Palestinians demand zero Israeli presence.
Kerry is expected to land in Israel on Wednesday, just five days after his last visit to the region. He will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.
The details of the proposal, which was crafted by 160 experts in the Obama administration headed by retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, have not been officially released. Kerry is expected to present Netanyahu and Abbas with further details, which are said to coincide with the U.S.'s desire to strike a peace deal by April 2014 -- the end of the nine months it has given the current round of talks, launched in August.
U.S. sources said the plan includes a diplomatic outline and a security outline. According to Al-Ayyam, the deal will allow Israel to maintain both overt and covert military presence in the Jordan Valley and in the border crossings connecting the Palestinian territories with Jordan, for the next 10 to 15 years.
The outline also states that the IDF would be allowed to maintain lookout posts on several hills in Judea and Samaria and that joint Israeli-Palestinian forces will patrol the borders.
When the set time period elapses, the U.S. and Israel will review that security situation and decide whether the PA can assume full control of the area's security arrangements.
Al-Ayyam quoted Ramallah sources as saying that the Palestinians have rejected the proposal, deeming it "unacceptable."
One Palestinian official was quoted as leveling harsh criticism at the Americans for "abandoning" the outline previously presented by Allen and "fully endorsing the Israeli [security] perspective, especially regarding the Jordan Valley, border crossings and airspace."
Palestinian Liberation Organization Executive Committee Secretary Yasser Abed Rabbo slammed the proposal as "completely backtracking on all the understandings reached on security issued prior to the current round of talks."
A senior Palestinian official told Israel Hayom that the current proposal has already been forwarded to the negotiating teams, adding that "one of the American proposals includes postponing the third scheduled release of Palestinian prisoners, and combine it with the forth release, set for late January."
Meanwhile, former GOC Central Command and current Israeli military attaché in Washington, Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni, who is familiar with the proposed plan, told Army Radio Tuesday that Israel's need to control the Jordan Valley was mission-critical.
"All and all the situation is quite clear: Israel does not have substantial strategic depth so it has to ensure that whatever security arrangements are made will last for years to come. Right now there are too many unknown variables on the ground. This is a very complex issue."
According to Shamni, "Controlling the [Jordan Valley] mantle is critical. True, we border Jordan from the east and we have a good relationship with them, but Jordan is plagued by many issues. We have no idea what things are going to look like tomorrow."
Speaking of the possibility that an international force would be stationed in the area in the event of the permanent peace deal, Shamni said Israel's experience with international forces was "less than favorable."
"There is no doubt that the security limitations also have symbolic ramifications, to the point of infringing on the Palestinian's national pride and their sovereignty, so we have to devise alternatives that would reduce our presence on the ground.
"One possibility is a well-trained Jordanian force that would be teamed up with a Palestinian force and an international force, but we will maintain Israeli presence in some [border] crossings. ... We can create a workable formula," he said.
"Unfortunately, we've had a less than favorable experience with international forces, like the one stationed in Lebanon. If an international force is deployed in the Jordan Valley it will operate under a similar mandate as the force in Lebanon," Shamni said.
"We can take into account that an international force will be deployed within the West Bank, but we'll have to maintain a wide security margin for the first few years -- otherwise we risk striking a deal and having to go back in and taking [the area] over within two years."