The Americans have moved significantly toward the Israeli view in regard to security arrangements in any future Palestinian state. According to an unnamed Israeli diplomat, the American view of a post-settlement Israeli presence in a future Palestinian state, as presented this week by John Kerry, is very close to that of the Israelis. In fact, Kerry has explicitly agreed to a long-term Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, according to an unconfirmed report in the Israeli daily Ma’ariv on Friday.
In a press conference at Ben Gurion Airport upon leaving Israel yesterday, Kerry said that he believes that a negotiated settlement is closer than it has been in many years. The U.S Secretary of State made this optimistic assessment despite the many leaked opinions from Palestinian and Israeli officials that the current talks are going nowhere.
Kerry modestly stated that he presented “some thoughts” on post-agreement Israeli security deployment in the West Bank to both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. These “thoughts” were developed with the assistance of no less than 160 American officials and government employees who were led by retired Marine General John Allen. According to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, what Kerry characterized as “some thoughts” is actually a very detailed draft plan which General Allen has put together after a series of meetings with Israeli military officials during the past few months. Allen accompanied Kerry to Israel and participated in explaining the American security proposals to both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
After three separate meetings with Netanyahu which together lasted 12 hours, and a four-hour meeting with Abbas, there were no official reactions to the draft proposal. The parties have agreed to maintain secrecy during the negotiations. However, Ma’ariv reports that the Israelis are very satisfied with the U.S. proposals, which they claim represent a significant movement from previous positions of the Obama administration. Despite reported leaks from unnamed Palestinian officials that Abbas had summarily rejected Kerry’s ideas, Saeb Erekat, the lead Palestinian negotiator, denied that there was any rejection.
After their meeting in Ramallah, Prime Minister Abbas did not join Kerry at the post-meeting press conference, which could be interpreted as the Palestinian leader showing his displeasure with the American presentation.
Kerry has publicly accepted the Israeli position that its security arrangements with regard to any future Palestinian state should be agreed upon before the parties commence talks about borders, Jerusalem, refugees, land swaps and the disposition of the settlements. The Palestinians prefer to discuss Israeli security simultaneously with the other core issues.
The Jerusalem Post quotes Kerry as stating:
If Israel’s security cannot be increased through this agreement, it is very difficult to make an agreement … so we are making certain that we are addressing each and every one of those questions.
The Israelis are insisting on a long-term military presence in the Jordan Valley, control of the border between a future Palestinian state and Jordan including authority over who enters the territory, early warning towers in Palestinian territory, and a demilitarized Palestinian state. The Palestinians view most of the Israeli security demands as limiting their sovereignty.
The Palestinians have stated that they would consider an international peace- keeping force in the Jordan Valley, but will not agree to any Israeli presence there.
Update: 1:45 PM EST — President Obama is being questioned by Haim Saban at the Saban Forum in Washington. The President spoke directly about the collaboration between Gen. Allen and the Israelis about ensuring Israeli security in the event of a settlement with the Palestinians. It sounded very much as if the U.S. was trying to obtain an agreement with the Israelis which would then be presented to the Palestinians as a kind of joint proposal.
Saban asked about Netanyahu’s reaction to the U.S. security proposals. Obama said that he did not know and that Saban should ask Kerry or Netanyahu. It had been reported that Kerry would attend the forum, so it is possible that Saban would get an answer to his question.
Isn’t it amazing how the Obama administration has to report to Israel or its representatives after each diplomatic event? Remember how Wendy Sherman traveled directly to Jerusalem in order to brief Netanyahu after nuclear talks in Geneva?
Update 2: According to Israel News 1 (Hebrew only),President Obama specifically stated that he supports a continued Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley. I did not hear this, but I only listened to the last 15 minutes of Obama’s presentation.
Update 3: Ha’aretz has confirmed the report here (English) under the title, “U.S. Security Proposal Includes Israeli Military Presence In the Jordan Valley.”