Middle East

Israeli ex-defence chiefs offer Palestinian peace plan

Palestinian boy walks by separation barrier in Aida Refugee Camp, near Bethlehem.
Image caption The new peace plan would see a two-state solution and address the issue of Palestinian refugees.

A group of former Israeli security chiefs and politicians have presented a proposal to restart stalled peace talks with the Palestinians.

They are hoping it will put pressure on the Israeli prime minister to act.

More than 50 prominent Israelis back the informal plan, which they say is based on a 2002 Arab initiative.

They include former heads of the national intelligence agency, Mossad, the Shin Bet domestic security agency, and the military.

Other signatories are academics and business leaders.

The proposal would see Israel agree to a Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem with border adjustments so it could keep key settlements.

It would give possible financial compensation to Palestinian refugees. A small number might be allowed to return to their former family homes in Israel.

A similar formula has been offered in formal and informal frameworks before, without leading to an agreement.

At a news conference in Tel Aviv, Yacov Peri, a former head of Shin Bet, told the BBC he and the other signatories felt the Israeli government needed to be pushed to break the deadlock.

Image caption Former Shin Bet chief Yacov Peri and other backers of the plan want to put pressure on Mr Netanyahu

"We are considered peace refuseniks, frozen, without initiative," he said. "Israel is strong and talented and it's time to talk to take our future in our hands."

Mr Peri said the current upheaval in the Arab world and a plan to ask the United Nations General Assembly to recognise an independent Palestinian state within 1967 borders required an Israeli response.

Foreign pressure

The Palestinians want a state covering all the West Bank and Gaza, with Arab East Jerusalem as their capital as well as a settlement of the refugee issue.

Their officials have broadly welcomed the new initiative, but say they want to examine the complete text.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been shown a copy of the plan.

His spokesman Ophir Gendelman said: "This initiative reflects the true yearning of the Israeli people for peace. This initiative, like the Israeli government's policy, is based upon the need to go back to direct negotiations between the two sides."

Image caption The US and Israeli presidents discussed the implications of Arab uprisings.

Mr Netanyahu has agreed to the principle of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However US-brokered talks collapsed in September in a dispute over continued settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

This week the US and the European Union criticised an Israeli plan to build more than 900 homes in the settlement of Gilo in East Jerusalem.

On Tuesday US President Barack Obama spoke of the need to end the deadlock in peace talks when he met Israeli President Shimon Peres at the White House.

"With the winds of change blowing through the Arab world, it's more urgent than ever that we try to seize the opportunity to create a peaceful solution between Palestinians and Israelis," Mr Obama said.

However he did not suggest any new initiative to bring the two sides together.

There is also pressure from the Israeli opposition.

"The current government has wasted the last two years," Shaul Mofaz, a leading parliamentarian from the Kadima party told reporters. "The 'do-nothing policy' is very dangerous."