Israel, Palestinians transfer more land

After nearly two months of disagreements, Israel on Wednesday began withdrawing from an additional 5 percent of the West Bank, representing the second phase of withdrawal.

In addition, the two sides have been meeting daily in an attempt to nail down a framework for a final peace deal by a previously agreed mid-February target date.

Both sides also agreed that the third redeployment of 6.1 percent would be implemented as scheduled on Jan. 20. The three stages of withdrawal were specified in a land-for-security agreement the two sides reached in September in Egypt.

The head of the Israeli team, Oded Eran, said this week some progress has been made in the final-status talks. He added that he was optimistic the framework could be reached, if not by the middle of February, then a few weeks later.

Palestinian spokesman Nabil Abu Irdeineh said Wednesday it is still "too early to judge" whether the framework accord will be reached by the target date.

The second stage of redeployment, which began Wednesday, was initially slated to take place Nov. 15, but was held up by Palestinian demands that they have a say in which portions of the West Bank should be turned over to their control.

But the two sides reached a compromise Tuesday, when the Palestinian Authority agreed to use Israel's original redeployment maps. A day later, Israel withdrew from army bases in the northern West Bank towns of Nablus and Jenin. In addition to evacuating six bases in the northern West Bank, the IDF was slated to evacuate a base near Bethlehem.

As a result of the latest withdrawal, which was expected to be completed yesterday, the Palestinian Authority will have sole control over an additional 2 percent of the region and gain joint control over an additional 3 percent.

By Jan. 20, the Palestinians are due to control nearly 40 percent of the territory.

On Wednesday, Palestinian officials denied that they had agreed to go ahead with the latest Israeli redeployment for fear that they would be left behind by the Israeli-Syrian track.

The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are a "parallel track, not a competitive" one, said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

According to the Palestinians, Israel has agreed to transfer to the Palestinian Authority areas bordering Jerusalem in the third redeployment stage. Israel denies this claim, saying the areas have yet to be decided upon. For more JTA stories, go to