from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

The Kerry Negotiations

December 23, 2013

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Secretary of State Kerry continues his "peace process" efforts at hammering out a comprehensive deal, or at least a framework deal, between Israelis and Palestinians.

Two recent articles are reminders that he is unlikely to succeed. In the first,

The Arab League says it rejects a continued Israeli troop presence on the eastern border of a future state of Palestine, a proposal Palestinians say was floated by the U.S. earlier this month. Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said Saturday no peace deal would work with Israeli presence in a Palestinian state.

Why is this critical? Because Palestinian president Abbas is hiding behind the Arab League, as the second article shows:

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas informed the Arab League about the upcoming proposal, saying it would contain US suggestions regarding the borders of the future Palestinian state, Sbeih said. Abbas told the League that "once he receives the American proposal he will not respond but will present it to Arab nations to make a joint decision."

In other words, Abbas won’t anger Kerry by saying "no." He will have the Arab League say no, and then he can tell Kerry "my hands are tied." That second article, from the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, also sets out Abbas’s views:

- Abbas would accept a Palestinian state with the entirety of East Jerusalem as its capital, with limited land swaps as long as the lands being traded were of equal value.

- He would accept an incremental withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian land, allowing them up to three years to leave.

- He would reject the idea of any permanent Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, but would welcome an international peacekeeping presence.

- He would refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

- He would reject any interim agreement, calling instead for a final solution.

- He would reject any proposal that required Palestine to be an unarmed state, but said he would not get involved in an "arms race."

Perhaps those are negotiating positions, meant to abandoned as soon as real talks begin, but I doubt it--and that is why a comprehensive deal between Israel and the PLO is not in the cards. For example when Abbas talks of "the entirety of east Jerusalem" he includes areas that Israel will not give up--and perhaps he even means the Western Wall and Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, which were after all part of Jordanian-ruled Jerusalem until 1967. If he rejects an interim agreement, he is rejecting the only form of agreement that’s realistic today. And as to Palestinian arms, it has been agreed for many years that a Palestinian state would have to be "demilitarized." It isn’t clear what that means, nor what he means by rejecting "unarmed." It has long been understood that that state would have police forces and some equivalent to a national gendarmerie, but would not have an air force or an army with heavy weaponry--and would not have military alliances with other states that could threaten Israel.

The only good news here is Abbas’s statement that while Israel could not have a "permanent" military presence in the Jordan Valley, he appears to understand that withdrawal will not be immediate.  Abbas suggests three years; Secretary Kerry has apparently suggested 10 or 15. Of greater interest are the news stories reporting that it was not Israel but Jordan that convinced Kerry that the IDF must stay that long to protect the security of Israel, Jordan, and the new state of Palestine. It must have been a wake-up call for Kerry to hear that line not in Jerusalem, but in Amman.

Kerry is apparently seeking a sort of "framework agreement," meaning that he understands a comprehensive agreement is currently impossible but the Palestinians won’t accept an interim agreement. In my view a framework agreement is a bad choice. Here’s why: in a final agreement both sides make extremely difficult concessions and compromises but get a lot for it. The Palestinians in theory get their sovereign state, and the Israelis get peace with all the Arab states and an end of the conflict and all claims against them. In a framework agreement, the concessions and compromises are announced so the political cost is very high--but neither side gets anything for it. They pay the price and get no reward for doing so. Why would any political leader go for that? It has been suggested that if Kerry outlines a framework agreement and the sides both reject it (i.e., say they cannot accept all of it), the EU will introduce the text as a UN resolution. That’s plausible, but where does it get anyone? Not one step closer to peace.

 

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