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What Is Plan B For Mideast Peace Negotations?


Yesterday was the last day for Israeli and Palestinian officials to try to work out a peace agreement, the end of a nine month period they'd given themselves to do that. They did not succeed and now there are a lot of different ideas for what Plan B should look like. NPR's Emily Harris reports.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Despite the failure of peace talks so far, Israeli attorney and past peace negotiator Gilead Sher still wants to see an independent Palestinian nation next to a democratic Jewish Israel. His Plan B? Pull out of the West Bank, which Palestinians claim as their future state.

GILEAD SHER: Let's delineate the borders. Unilaterally - in a coordinated manner but unilaterally.

HARRIS: He says that would show Israel is serious about peace - and give Palestinians an incentive to talk. Israel's right-wing Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett has a different Plan B. Support Palestinian rule in urban areas, where they currently have some control. But essentially annex the 60 percent of the West Bank where Israel has complete control now.

NAFTALI BENNETT: Massively invest in infrastructure, in economy, in the quality of lives, in self-governance of the Palestinians. Apply Israeli law on the Israel parts, or Israeli controlled parts of Judea and Samaria, a.k.a. the West Bank. Offer full citizenship to those Palestinians who live in those areas.

HARRIS: Bennett leaves open the possibility that a Palestinian state might be created somehow in conjunction with Jordan. His ideas go nowhere with Palestinian officials. Sabri Saidam is a leader in the Fattah political party and close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Palestinian administration was originally created to be transitional. Without peace talks leading to full self-rule, Saidam says Palestinians could, in the future, let the Palestinian Authority dissolve.

SABRI SAIDAM: Either to say to Israel here are the keys, you pay my salary, you collect garbage, you do one, two, three. Or go to the U.N. and say, you know, we want a U.N. mandate of Palestine based on previously passed U.N. resolutions. You control this land until a resolution is found.

HARRIS: Palestinians say Israel sabotaged peace talks by continuing to build homes in the West Bank. Israelis say the nail in the coffin was President Abbas's decision to re-unite with Hamas, the militant Islamist Palestinian group. Dore Gold is a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and now an advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

DORE GOLD: Hopefully as we speak someone is talking about Plan B. But we're interested in seeing a successful negotiating process with the Palestinians. But for that to happen, Abbas has got to jettison Hamas.

HARRIS: Mustafa Barghouti, an independent Palestinian politician who helped negotiate the reunification with Hamas, says Netanyahu - and his advisors - had a different concern while negotiations were going on.

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Before we had agreement with Hamas, he used to say I can't make final agreement with Mr. Abbas because there is nobody that can represent all Palestinians. Now he's saying you are unified and that's why I can't make peace with you.

HARRIS: Barghouti says the most important future step - and part of the agreement with Hamas - is to hold long-overdue Palestinian elections.

BARGHOUTI: What we did is not just an agreement about ending the internal division. We did an agreement to bring back what we've lost, which is democracy. The Palestinian political spectrum is much wider than what is thought worldwide. It's not just Fattah and Hamas.

HARRIS: Nine months ago, announcing the restart of peace talks, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he would be seeking reasonable compromises from both sides. Now he and President Obama say the next step is a pause. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.
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