By Elise Labott, CNN's Senior State Department Producer
After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his speech to Congress today, Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin and I sat down for a conversation with Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev. He elaborated on the Prime Minister’s speech.
After talking to Regev, I interviewed Maen Areikat, the Chief Palestinian Representative to the United States.
There are five areas where the two sides are at odds, which could complicate efforts to forge a final peace deal: (1) borders and land swaps, (2) Hamas and recognition of Israel, (3) Jordan Valley, (4) Jerusalem and (5) consequences of the Arab Spring.
1. Borders and land swaps
For the first time Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly said that if the Israelis and Palestinians did reach a final peace deal, “some settlements will end up beyond Israel's borders.”
Israeli spokesman Mark Regev insists that Israel is expanding only in territories they expect to keep. We tried to press him whether Israel would would commit to not building in the areas it expects to give up as a sign of seriousness about negotiations, but he said that Israel will “play its cards in the process of negotiations" on all the core issues.
He added that Israel can’t agree on a final position of a border without certain “guarantees” from the Palestinians in negotiations that they won't be attacked from territory they are pulling out of.
Maen Areikat told us the settlements that Israel wants to keep as part of the land swaps are problematic. Additionally, he said, Israel’s desire to keep roads leading in and around the settlements for future expansion constitute a lot of land to be swapped, which could affect the character of the Palestinians state.
Hamas and recognition of Israel
In his speech, Netanyahu urged President Abbas to dissolve his Fatah party’s agreement with Hamas, saying that Israel could never negotiate with a Palestinian government that is backed by “the Palestinian version of al-Qaeda,” which refuses to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
Netanyahu said if the Palestinians were to separate from Hamas, Israel would be prepared to talk about all issues, but until then "The ball is clearly in the Palestinian court." As Regev put it, Israel needs to hear its Jewish aspirations are legitimate.
As the Palestinians see it, they stay out of Israel’s domestic politics and Israel should not interfere with their internal politics. Arikat argued that Palestinians must be united in order for a negotiated settlement with Israel to have legs.
The agreement that the PLO made with Hamas, he said, paves the way for democratic elections where he expects Palestinians will vote for a peaceful resolution to the conflict with Israel.
Israel and the United States have called for a “non-militarized” Palestinian state - meaning the future state of Palestine would have no army. Furthermore, Netanyahu called for a continued Israel military presence in the Jordan Valley.
Regev cited many examples of sovereign states with foreign forces on their territory, such as Japan and Korea, both of which consented to the troops in treaties.
Arikat called troops in the Jordan Valley a non-starter that would give Israel a third of the West Bank, which he considers a major portion of a future Palestinian state. Additionally, he said, any designs Netanyahu has on controlling international crossing points, Palestinian airspace and water are an affront to Palestinian sovereignty and are therefore unacceptable.
Prime Minister Netanyahu unequivocally stated that Jerusalem must remain the u capital of Israel, while the Palestinians have called for East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestine. Several proposals have been floated for Jerusalem to have international status, but this still proves to be one of the thorniest issues of the peace process.
This week President Obama warned that rapid change in the Middle East might not work to Israel’s benefit if it didn’t move to make peace with the Palestinians.
Not only did Obama restate the fact that the number of Palestinians living in Israel is growing rapidly and threatening Israel’s Jewish identity, he warned that the new generation of Arabs reshaping the region will demand rights for the Palestinians as well. He suggested that longtime dictators like Hosni Mubarak are no longer around to guarantee the peace process.
Netanyahu acknowledged the “epic battle” against tyranny in the Middle East and said it “holds the promise of a new dawn of freedom and opportunity."
Josh Rogin and I tried to push Regev on the point that the new democratically elected leaders of the region may not be supportive a peace deal with Israel, but Regev insisted that Israel has nothing to fear from democracy in the Arab world.
Arikat said it was ironic that Netanyahu should talk about liberty and freedom without acknowledging that close to 4 million Palestinians are under occupation. The Arab world, he insisted, would not abandon the Palestinian cause and the region’s “winds of change” would ultimately affect the struggle of the Palestinians and help them achieve statehood.
That's a quick summary of my Tuesday interviews. What do you think about Obama and Netanyahu's speeches and the core issues above?
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