Former US officials say Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the administration of former US President Barack Obama in late 2014 to consider a plan to offer Palestinian lands in the northern parts of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in exchange for annexing large swaths of the occupied West Bank.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, four US officials, told the Israeli Haaretz newspaper on Wednesday that Netanyahu raised the idea with Obama and then-Secretary of State John Kerry on a number of occasions.
According to the officials, who had direct knowledge of the relevant conversations, the Israeli premier told Obama and Kerry that he could convince Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to accept the plan.
However, when the US looked into the idea, they received a negative response from Egypt. “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.’”
“We all thought this idea was a waste of time,” one of the officials said. “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?”
Netanyahu’s office denied the account.
The report came a few weeks after The New York Times reported that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had presented a plan along US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting in Riyadh. Riyadh advancing Israeli interests, Palestinians worry: Palestinian officials express worry that Saudi Arabia is forgoing important Palestinian rights as it acts behind the scenes to advance a US “grand bargain” over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
According to Palestinians, Arab and European officials who have heard Abbas’s version of the conversation, bin Salman presented a plan that would be more tilted toward the Israelis than any ever embraced by the American government, one that presumably no Palestinian leader could ever accept.
Palestinian officials have repeatedly expressed worry that Saudi Arabia is forgoing important Palestinian rights as it acts behind the scenes to advance a US “grand bargain” over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that heavily favors Israel.
Saudi Arabia’s maneuvering over Palestine comes amid increasing reports that the Riyadh regime is preparing a normalization of ties with Tel Aviv.
On Monday, Israeli newspaper Maariv also reported that an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, drafted by Trump’s son-in-law and presidential advisor Jared Kushner, also includes land swaps in the Sinai.
Washington however, strongly denies such reports, dismissing them as, “a mix of ill-informed speculation and utter nonsense” and unrelated to the actual content of the peace plan. Palestinians want the West Bank as part of their future independent state, with East Jerusalem al-Quds as its capital, while the Israeli occupiers of Palestinian territories deem the West Bank as “liberated land,” saying formal annexation is only a matter of time.
More than half a million Israelis live in over 230 settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds.
The UN and most countries regard the Israeli settlements as illegal, because the territories they are built on were captured by Israel in the 1967 war and are hence subject to the Geneva Conventions, which forbid construction on occupied lands.—Agencies