U.S. Proposal Boosts Momentum for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

The current round of Israeli-Palestinian talks has taken place in a climate of cynicism. But a new American proposal has given the negotiations some momentum, at least on the Israeli side

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Brendan Smialowski / Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry walks past American and Israeli flags at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv on Jan. 6, 2014

Glimmers of hope are appearing in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks championed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. After five months of formal but unproductive secret meetings amid a climate of skepticism, the atmosphere around the talks has turned serious and politically lively, at least on the Israeli side.

The source of the new energy appears to be the Obama Administration’s decision — in the absence of progress between the two parties — to produce its own written “framework,” a document articulating the core issues in terms the parties would then take up in talks that follow the current round, due to expire in April. The announcement that Washington would step forward to have its say had the effect of forcing both sides out of their comfort zones.

“Until a few weeks ago there were talks between the parties … but these were not really negotiations, in the sense of give and take and moving into flexibilities of both sides. It was more like presenting your opening positions on all the issues and discussing,” says Michael Herzog, a retired general who has taken part in previous peace talks on the Israeli side, and is serving the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an informal advisory capacity during the current talks.

“So I think the U.S. understood that if you continue down that road, you get to the end of the nine months with nothing, and nobody wants to get to the end of the nine months with nothing,” he says. The decision to produce a framework document, with input from both sides but owned by the U.S., was announced by both President Obama and Kerry at a Washington conference in early December, and sank in gradually. “Once there was more and more public understanding of what they were talking about — that there was going to be a U.S. proposal, with guidelines on all the main core issues,” says Herzog, “people realized it’s not the earliest phase of endless talks, but it’s something more serious, more real.”

The new reality became evident to Israeli political observers only recently. “Since the beginning of this week, the sense here has been that something is happening,” Shalom Yerushalmi wrote in the Hebrew daily Maariv on Tuesday. “Something has shifted, mainly beneath the surface.”

But also above the surface: on Sunday, Finance Minister Yair Lapid addressed a meeting of his Yesh Atid party: “As someone who is familiar with the progress in the peace process, it’s real.” Lapid’s centrist party is the second largest in Netanyahu’s governing coalition. “There’s a real opportunity that is closer than it appears to be to reach an arrangement, and we mustn’t miss it,” he said. “I want to strengthen the Prime Minister and to call on him to make every effort to realize this opportunity.”

On the same day, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman — whose nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party is formally linked to Netanyahu’s Likud — shifted from a critic of any talks to a supporter of the framework, telling a meeting of ambassadors that the U.S. proposal is the best Israel can expect. “Other proposals from the international community would be worse for us,” he said.

The text of the framework has not yet been released, and Kerry has worked to keep details of all negotiations confidential. But numerous reports indicate Kerry is leaning toward Israel’s positions on at least two areas of controversy: allowing Israel to maintain some kind of military presence in the Jordan Valley of the West Bank, even in a sovereign Palestinian state. There are also indications the framework would endorse Netanyahu’s insistence that the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which in 1988 recognized Israel as a state, add recognition of it as a Jewish state — an acknowledgement Israelis say they would understand as a genuine end to the conflict over the biblical land both Jews and Palestinians claim as a homeland.

In return, Netanyahu reportedly would accept a statement in the framework that any final agreement would be based on the borders of 1967, the year Israeli forces captured and occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Accepting the 1967 lines — with exchanges of land to allow Israel to keep its largest housing settlements — might push at least one party out of the governing coalition. Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the settler Jewish Home party that favors annexing the West Bank, on Monday vowed to leave the government. “No more word games: the 1967 lines mean dividing Jerusalem and giving up the Western Wall, the Temple Mount and the Old City,” Bennett said. “In what way will our history remember a leader that gives up Jerusalem? We won’t sit in such a government.”

Other parties would, however. Leaders of the propeace Labor Party have signaled their willingness to join Netanyahu’s government in order to keep negotiations going. And senior Western diplomats in recent weeks have been sounding out leaders of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties about joining the government. Though conservative on many issues, the religious parties have historically been flexible on land for peace.

The religious parties might be needed if peace talks grow so serious that Netanyahu’s own Likud party fractures. The Likud’s charter calls for retaining the West Bank, and in the past 18 months the rightist party has become dominated by prosettler lawmakers. One introduced legislation calling for Israel to annex the Jordan Valley. The bill was considered symbolic, but Herzog, the former negotiator, takes its introduction as evidence of genuine alarm among right-wingers that the peace talks — which could lead to the birth of a Palestinian state — appear to be gaining traction.

How much traction? In historical terms, not terribly much. In previous rounds of negotiations named for the places they were convened — Wye River, Camp David, Annapolis, Taba — the two sides were trying to hash out details of a final-status agreement. The current round has not even gotten as far as delineating the issues at hand. Nor has Netanyahu met his counterpart, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, across a negotiating table. But that could all change in the weeks ahead.

“The framework should be the door that ushers in bilateral negotiations,” says Herzog. But as Kerry explained at length as he departed Jerusalem on Sunday, the terms of the framework must be carefully calibrated. “It’s a puzzle, and you can’t separate out one piece or another,” Kerry said to reporters. “Because what a leader might be willing to do with respect to a compromise on one particular piece is dependent on what the other leader might be willing to do with respect to a different particular piece. And there’s always a tension as to when you put your card on the table as to which piece you’re willing to do, when and how. So it has to move with its particular pace and its particular privacy, frankly.” Which is why the text of the outline is still weeks away, according to State Department officials.

“It’s where the U.S. believes the balancing point between the two parties should be,” Herzog says. “This is a very delicate business.”

22 comments
Milton Chow
Milton Chow

The whole region is an enormous powder keg waiting to be lit by someone. Israel, the U.S, Syria, I don't care. The Jews need to be settled somewhere else, and by God, somewhere SAFE, where there won't be unnecessary violence, conflict and death, lest that powder keg blows.

Christopher Lee Richmond
Christopher Lee Richmond

i think now is the time for people and nations with abundance clearly to reach out to those with nothing. abundance not only means finances. its friendships. its giving from the heart. its sincerely being there for people as a friend. as a neighbour, talking with them like your brother or sister in your household, or a mother or father, or a son and daughter. i learned a lot by being in japan. i learned just how 'polite' and nice people can be, on the 'outside.' just following etiquette. but they just ignore you and isolate you. you become so alone and isolated by everyone when you don't fit their cultural or 'style' of what they like. and its perfectly ok and by their system. I feel this is wrong. its fake and illusionary.

Torian Kennedy
Torian Kennedy

Of course Israel will be OK with whatever peace plans the US conceives because the US will always design it in the interest of Israel and against the Arabs who are clearly the enemy of both USA and Israel. The biased status of the US is another reason to render them as illegitimate peacekeepers of the world, because they act only in the interest of imperialism and Israel, two similarly destructive forces in our 21st century global society.

Sina Saba
Sina Saba

israeil will be destroy in 2022

Angel Jones
Angel Jones

Anyone who thinks that years upon years of conflict between Israel and Palestine can be resolved in one talk must be delusional. How about the US just mind it's own business? We have enough issues here without trying to be the world police.

Lisa Graham
Lisa Graham

Until the mentality changes in those parts there will never be peace.

Reaz Hawaldar
Reaz Hawaldar

It's about time ppl stop living in refugee camps

Lu Con
Lu Con

If Israel wasnt involved their would be peace

AmitAtlantaUSA
AmitAtlantaUSA

One of the readers "Christopherz" had posted a very candid one-liner on CNN feedback!


He said "If Palestinians put down their weapons there will be Peace, if Israel puts down her weapons there will be no more Israel." !!!


But here's the bitter truth.....the world knows just too well Muslims as a group are NOT the kind who will be satisfied with anything until & unless their will is implemented......and implemented in full.......according to the Sharia, and all infidels are converted to Islam or be killed.


In recent times, the "so-called" Palestinian issue is a PLOY to wage war against the much hated Jewish people, and their American and European supporters.


In older times (right from the days of Mohammed), they created issues by:

a) Stealing Pagan symbols (for example the holiest Islamic symbol "The Kaaba")

b) Stealing other's sacred lands (Jerusalem, Varanasi, Bethlehem etc.) after making them holy to Islam also

c) Stealing the knowledge evolved by Sumerians , Assyrians, Mesopotomians, Romans, Christians, Hindus, Chinese, Buddhists) and REPACKAGING them into their Holy Koran as revelations from Allah.

Here's a MUST READ by a Pakistani Muslim columnist:

http://blog.dawn.com/2010/11/25/the-science-of-farce/


This clandestine worldwide effort is NOT only limited to the uneducated Koranic Madarasa educated Islamic foot soldiers, but also otherwise highly educated but COVERT ISLAMIST Intellectuals such as CNN/Times' own Mr. FAREED ZAKARIA.


Given this BITTER TRUTH, there's no likelihood of finding a solution... EVER for any of the worldwide Muslim issues incl. Palestine, Kashmr, Chechnya, Rohingya, South Sudan, CAR, Nigeria, Thailand or the never ending charges of ISLAMOPHOBIA, and real & perceived discrimination against Muslims right here in America (& Europe, India, Australia, in short the entire NON-Muslim world).


I will wait to be proven wrong!

AmitAtlantaUSA
AmitAtlantaUSA

The fact is during the Camp David meet facilitated by Jimmy Carter, the Israelis agree to give up 97% of the occupied lands, and even agreeing to make West Jerusalem the capital of a new Palestinian state, but the deal feel though as the Palestinians did NOT want to surrender the right-of-return to ISRAEL for all displaced Palestinians which would have spelt a DEATH KNELL FOR THE JEWISH CHARACTER OF ISRAEL, and potentially the SECOND JEWISH HOLOCAUST!


Bottom line.......the Palestinians will NEVER ACCEPT any peace deal UNLESS the stage is set for the second extermination of the Jews.