John Kerry met with Benjamin Netanyahu today after a tense meeting with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah last night. According to Israeli Channel 2, Kerry is pushing to lead a three-party summit with Abbas and Netanyahu. The U.S. Secretary of State wants the summit to produce a framework agreement which would lay out the terms for the continuing talks. Kerry wants to convene the summit in the next few weeks and to have the agreement include parameters for all major issues to be negotiated.
Last night, a snowy Thursday evening, Kerry met in Ramallah with Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The chilly weather was said to reflect the mood of his Palestinian interlocutors who are angered by the Secretary’s recent ideas, ideas which to them appear to mirror Israeli positions.
The Americans told Palestinian officials they hope to have both sides sign a framework agreement quickly. The framework agreement would then be the basis of a six- month to one- year negotiation in which the sides would work out the details of a peace agreement.
As reported in Ha’aretz, according to senior Palestinian advisor, the atmosphere at the meeting last night was not good because of “American pressure.” The Americans want an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley for a period of 10 to 15 years. The Palestinians have publicly stated that they would accept an international military presence in their future state, but would not agree to any Israeli military deployment on their territory.
Palestinian negotiators argue that they received assurances in Washington in 2008 from General James Jones that the Americans would reject a continued Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley. Despite his public statements, leaks from the negotiations claim that Abbas is willing to accept the Israeli military in the Jordan Valley for “three years or a bit more.”
A senior Palestinian official who was present last night complained that “the American tendency is to adopt most of the Israeli demands, whether you are talking about security arrangements or obtaining an interim agreement which is contrary to all the Palestinian declarations prior to restarting the negotiations.” The Palestinians have often stated that they oppose any interim solutions because they fear that any temporary arrangement could become permanent thus denying them their goal of an independent and viable state. Initially Kerry stated that he was seeking a permanent final agreement, but his recent statements appear to contradict that.
Kerry angered the Palestinians last week when he suggested that a planned prisoner release of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons be delayed for a month. The Palestinians said that Kerry was inappropriately trying to pressure them into accepting the security terms he had proposed.
Earlier this week Ha’aretz reported that Kerry withdrew his request for delaying the prisoner release at a Washington meeting with Palestinian head negotiator Saeb Erekat last Monday. Today in answer to a question at a short press conference before leaving Israel, Kerry confirmed that the prisoner release will take place as planned on December 29.
Erekat was in Washington to attend Haim Saban’s Forum on U.S. – Israeli policy, which featured both President Obama and Kerry. Both Obama and Kerry addressed the current negotiations while paying homage to Haim Saban, who is a super-rich, Israel first, Israeli-American Democratic party mega donor. Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the forum by video from Jerusalem.
Tzipi Livni, the Israel Minister of Justice and lead negotiator, was also present at the Saban Forum, so both Livni and Erekat had a chance to continue their talks in Washington. They met for seven hours on Sunday and then resumed discussions on Monday, at which time they were joined by Kerry and Martin Indyk, the chief U.S. envoy to the negotiations.
Although there are many disparaging public comments from both Israeli and Palestinian officials about the chances that the Kerry talks will succeed, it is clear that those involved in the negotiations are still very much committed to sitting hour after hour with each other and with the American, to hear what Kerry has in mind.
However, both sides could be just going through the motions in order to honor their pledge to the U.S. Secretary that they would continue the effort for the full nine- month period allotted to the negotiations. Maybe fear that the side that stops negotiating would be blamed for failure to make peace is what is keeping the negotiations afloat.