In secret talks last year, Israel’s previous government reached an understanding with PLO negotiators on the creation of a Palestinian state, officials for both sides disclosed Wednesday.
Yossi Beilin, a senior minister in the Labor-led government of defeated Prime Minister Shimon Peres, confirmed Israel had agreed in principle to accept the Palestine Liberation Organization’s demand for a Palestinian state in exchange for Israel’s annexation of 10 percent of the land in the West Bank and a PLO promise not to put its capital in Jerusalem.
The disclosure marks the first time a top official from the previous government has acknowledged that an understanding had been reached in informal talks that could have provided a blueprint for a permanent solution between Israel and the PLO.
Palestinian officials acknowledged the understanding but denied the PLO had given up its claim to Jerusalem. As part of the understanding, the Palestinians could have established a demilitarized state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with the option to join in a confederation with Jordan.
But the May 29 election of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud-led government has rejected the concept of a Palestinian state, appears to undermine the likelihood that such an understanding-in-principle can be formalized.
Israeli-PLO talks on so-called permanent-status issues, such as Jerusalem and Palestinian statehood, were launched before the Israeli election. They have not resumed.
Beilin told Israel Radio on Wednesday that the Labor government had accepted the PLO’s longcherished dream of statehood after the PLO agreed in principle that Jerusalem would remain undivided under Israeli sovereignty.
Netanyahu defeated Peres by a razor-thin margin. Netanyahu had claimed that Peres would divide Jerusalem if he were restored to power, a charge Peres and other Laborites vehemently denied.
Under terms of the understanding outlined Wednesday, the PLO was to have established its capital in Abu Dis, a Palestinian West Bank district just outside Jerusalem’s current municipal boundaries but within sight of the ancient walled Old City.
Israel was prepared to recognize this capital as Al-Quds, the Arabic name for Jerusalem, essentially solving the dispute over the city, the thorniest issue of all, by expanding it into two cities.