Word from the Arabic, Hebrew and English press is that the once much-touted framework agreement that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has promised would create a meaningful pathway toward a final status agreement and that would be accompanied by a celebratory signing ceremony, has run aground.
A recent leak in Al Hayat claims that Kerry’s hope for what he now refers to as an “agreed upon framework,” has become a vague document that both sides will be able to interpret as they wish. Other sources said that the document will be either non-binding (this actually comes from Netanyahu), or unsigned, or be characterized as only American suggestions. It is not even clear if the paper that will be unveiled in Amman by the end of this month will be made public. All of this works to the detriment of the Palestinians, who still appear willing to continue negotiations despite their justified accusations that Kerry is hewing very closely to the Israeli positions.
Despite the fact that Kerry is presenting mostly Israeli-friendly demands, the U.S. Secretary faced some stiff opposition last week from Israelis who oppose any U.S.-brokered accord and view Kerry as misguided and his plans as inimical to their ability to retain their illegal settlements.
A week of pushback against Kerry started when a newspaper published off-the-record intemperate remarks by Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon, the Israeli Defense Minister, who called John Kerry “obsessive” and “messianic,” among other ill-chosen insults.
On Thursday a well-financed settler group began a series of newspaper ads, and announced the launch of a massive billboard campaign attacking the U.S. Secretary of State.
Young activists from the group, whose campaign is named, “Guard the nation, no surrendering to Kerry,” demonstrated at crowded intersections Saturday. The demonstrators carried signs, chanted, sang and handed out literature. Newspaper accounts indicated that protests took place at “dozens” of locations– though from the photographs and videos on the net it appeared that only a handful of people were at each location.
In reaction to the right-wing activists, two different groups demonstrated in support of Kerry’s initiative. Members of the centrist political party “Yesh Atid,” which is a part of the governing coalition and has given strong public support to the Kerry negotiations, mounted a counter demonstration. Their motto is (irony alert!) the heartwarming, “Separate from the Palestinians.” Their party leader, Yair Lapid, rejects the Palestinian demand for a capital in East Jerusalem, so the ability of his party to help achieve an agreement is severely compromised.
Activists from the so-called leftist political party, Meretz, also hit the streets, demonstrating in support of the Kerry negotiations. Unlike “Yesh Atid,” Meretz has been highly critical of Prime Minister Netanyahu, questioning his desire to negotiate in good faith.
Jewish Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel Weighs in Against Kerry, Obama
Although the rightwing Israel lobby currently has its hands tied attempting to subvert the Iran nuclear agreement, it is probably only a matter of time before it gets after Kerry and makes a serious attempt to obstruct the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Three U.S. Senators already have showed up in Jerusalem during a particularly intense recent Kerry visit in order to echo the concerns of the Israel Prime Minister. They were Republicans. However, as in the Iran debate, Democrats are sure to bolt from their President to back the Israeli cause.
Rep. Eliot Engel, a Jewish Democrat from the Bronx, New York, made his opposition to the Kerry Israel plan clear in an Israeli Hebrew- only newspaper. On Saturday, the right-wing daily Ma’ariv ran a story titled, “Bogie [Defense Minister, Moshe Ya'alon], We Are at Your Side: Also Friends of Obama are Against Kerry.” The article claimed that many U.S. Representatives and Senators, even Democrats, are opposed to the Kerry Israel-Palestine peace initiative, but only actually mentioned two names, Reps. Brad Sherman (CA) and Eliot Engel (NY).
The Ma’ariv piece does include numerous lengthy quotes from Rep. Engel, in which he states that Kerry should not be presenting a document based on U.S. ideas and surely should not be exerting any pressure on the Israelis. At least he did not agree with Ya’alon’s assertions that Kerry is messianic and too eager to get the parties to sign an accord.
Engel proudly opposes the notion, which is a U.S.-Israel policy mantra, that the settlements are an obstacle to peace. Engel is sticking with Kerry and Obama by opposing the proposed Iran Sanctions Bill.
Here are some of Engel’s direct quotes from the article.
“It is not appropriate that Kerry will present an American document that will put pressure on Israel to accept dictates from anyone.”
“I am against any group or country that will impose a settlement. A settlement must be signed as a result of a negotiation between the sides, and not because of an external force.”
“The international community was never fair to Israel. Apart from the United States, the European states and the Quartet usually attack Israel at every opportunity. Look what those nations do at the U.N.”
Question: Kerry should stop his scuttle back and forth and return to Washington?
“No. I do not feel that way. I only think that he does not need to come here with all the specific recommendations or a framework document. I know John Kerry well, he is a friend of Israel and I trust him, but he has created the impression that he is eager to get an agreement.”
Question: Too eager, messianic?
“No. I would not say that he is too eager, but in Israel there are many people who think differently than he does and their concerns are different than his. I feel that if the sides will reach an agreement, excellent, but if not, a bad agreement will be worse than no agreement at all.”
On the phrase, ‘The settlements are an obstacle to peace.’ [IG]
“I never use that formulation, ‘obstacle to peace.’ My heart tells me that every Jew has the right to live in any place in Israel and that includes Judea and Samaria. That does not mean that ignoring the location and timing, and announcing building tenders at all times is the correct thing to do.
“I believe that now, building in isolated settlements is not a good thing for Israel to do. It plays into the hands of the Palestinians; they exploit it in order to show the world how Israel is not apparently interested in a peaceful solution. Settlement building like that creates a distorted picture of Israel in the world.”
Question: Are you opposed to Obama’s policies in regard to the settlements?
(Engel suppresses a smile) “That is not the only issue where I oppose Obama. I think that he is a friend of Israel and that he did great things for Israel, the Iron Dome, for example, or the difficult struggle at the U.N. against the resolution to declare a Palestinian state, and even using the veto. But I do not think that the settlements are an obstacle to peace. In this matter he [Obama] needs to act cleverly.”
Translation mine — IG.