JERUSALEM : Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told US Secretary of State John Kerry that he wants to annex a fourth bloc of West Bank settlements, army radio reported on Sunday.
Until now, Israel has always spoken of its intention to annex three blocs of settlements in any future agreement with the Palestinians: the Etzion bloc in the south, Maaleh Adumim to the east of Jerusalem and the Ariel block in the north. The report said Netanyahu was proposing that Israel also keep hold of a group of settlements deep in the West Bank - Beit El, Ofra and Psagot - which lie to the north and east of Ramallah, the radio said.
A settlement bloc is an area where clusters of settlements have been established in relatively close proximity to one another, in which the majority of the West Bank’s 367,000 settlers currently live.
If Israel was to keep hold of the “Beit El bloc” as well as the others, it would mean annexing a total of 13 percent of the occupied West Bank, the radio said, describing it as a “very large percentage” of the territory.
“In the negotiating room, Netanyahu is talking about 13 percent of territory,” the radio’s diplomatic correspondent Ilil Shahar said, quoting sources close to Netanyahu.
“Netanyahu is proposing to a (land) swap of three to four percent then paying for the rest,” she said.
In previous rounds of negotiations, former prime minister Ehud Barak in 2001 spoke of Israel annexing six to eight percent, and in 2008, then premier Ehud Olmert spoke about seven percent.
The Palestinians want to keep Israel’s annexation of land they want for a future state to an absolute minimum, and have spoken of a maximum land swap of around two percent.
Netanyahu’s office refused to comment on the report.
Israel and the Palestinians embarked upon a nine-month track of direct negotiations at Kerry’s urging, at the end of July, which appear to have made little progress.
Currently, the US diplomat’s main focus is trying to get the sides to agree on a framework to guide the negotiations forward in the coming months.