from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Kerry, Jerusalem, and the Palestinian Concessions

June 27, 2013

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Secretary of State Kerry is about to visit Jerusalem again, seeking to get negotiations between Israel and the PLO restarted. News reports make it clear that the Palestinians are seeking various concessions as the price of returning to the negotiating table, including some prisoner releases (of prisoners convicted of violent crimes) and a partial freeze of construction in the settlements. The United States appears to be pushing in the same direction, asking Israel to take these steps so that talks can begin.

Meanwhile, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published a story quoting a "senior cabinet minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party" about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s intentions. According to this source, Netanyahu

would be willing to withdraw from most of the West Bank and evacuate numerous settlements as part of an agreement with the Palestinians, as long as his security demands were satisfied...."Netanyahu understands that for a peace agreement, it will be necessary to withdraw from more than 90 percent of the West Bank...." The minister said the issue of security arrangements is Netanyahu’s main concern, and this will be his main demand in the negotiations. If his security demands are met, he is prepared to make significant territorial concessions, the minister added...Netanyahu wants the future Palestinian state to be demilitarized, and he also wants the Israel Defense Forces to be able to maintain a long-term presence along the Jordan River, even if Israel cedes sovereignty there....

The Likud minister’s statements echo those made last week by the heads of Netanyahu’s two biggest coalition partners, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) and Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid). In separate interviews with the Washington Post, both said Netanyahu seriously wants to advance the peace process. Most settler leaders think this as well.

The story also notes that

The senior minister said that Netanyahu very much wants to resume talks with the Palestinians, but the premier isn’t convinced that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is equally eager. "He’s not certain there’s a partner," the minister said.

I wonder what Secretary Kerry thinks. After all, the Palestinians should be jumping at the chance for serious negotiations, not creating obstacles for their resumption--yet PLO and Palestinian Authority head Abbas does not appear anxious for talks to start. He seems to be satisfied with the status quo, and concerned above all with Palestinian internal politics--right now, with appointing a new prime minister. After former prime minister Fayyad was forced out, the next appointee resigned after only 18 days in office and the power struggle continues.

But it is also striking that as has almost always been the case in the so-called "peace process," all the concessions are being sought on the Israeli side. The United States has not, for example, demanded an end to Palestinian glorification of terrorism or incitement against Israel in official media as the price for starting new negotiations. Abbas continues to repeat the lie that Israel is endangering or seeking to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque; Palestinian official media continue to celebrate prisoners whose committed vicious acts of violence and terror; terrorists who prepared the bombing of civilian sites are honored by PA officials. Yet it is Israel’s commitment to peace that is doubted and from whom concessions are sought, as if the Palestinians are doing Israel and the United States a great favor by entering into negotiations that are the only route to their stated goal of an independent state.

Secretary Kerry has said he seeks progress by September. Progress is more likely if he tells the PA and PLO officials that they must do more than complain and criticize and condemn Israel. He should tell them that he will judge their own commitment by their conduct this summer, and that "incitement"-- the catch-all phrase that is used in diplomatic circles to include anti-Semitic attacks, lies about Israeli behavior, and glorification of violence and terror--must cease. That is the least the Palestinians can do, yet they do not appear willing to do it--and we do not appear willing to insist on it.

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