The Palestinian-Israeli peace talks that began in near-total secrecy six months ago are now producing a stream of leaks so steady the negotiations might as well be going on in public. And in a sense they are.
When Secretary of State John Kerry’s consigliere to the talks, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, holds a conference call with leaders of U.S. Jewish organizations to lay out the particulars of the “framework” Kerry is preparing as a guide for continuing talks, as Indyk did Thursday, no one expects what he says to remain confidential. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service quoted four participants in its story, which like numerous other reports found a headline in Indyk’s statement that the U.S. operated on the assumption that 75 to 80 percent of Jewish settlers now on Palestinian land could keep their homes.
The percentages are well in line with the assumptions underpinning peace talks for a generation – that in a deal producing a Palestinian state, its border would be drawn to bring into sovereign Israel the large “settlement blocs” built hard by the “Green Line” boundary in place before Israel conquered the West Bank (and Gaza Strip) in 1967. But, like the conference call, the headlines served to prepare the public for the possibility of the long-held assumption becoming a hard reality, albeit one presented in relatively positive terms. The headline could have been: 25 percent of settlers – 100,000 people – would be uprooted by Kerry proposal.
Or would they? On Sunday an aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters that Israel might well give Jews in the more remote settlements the option of staying put, and living under Palestinian rule. The trial balloon dominated Israeli politics for the week, so inflaming the rhetoric of the leading advocate of settlers, Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, that Netanyahu reportedly threatened to throw him out of the government. “Why can’t Palestinians rule over Israelis?” Bennett thundered in a Tuesday speech. “Because they’ll kill them.”
Bennett spoke at a Tel Aviv security conference that very nearly doubled as a venue for the talks. Earlier the same day, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had appeared in a videotaped interview and for the first time stated publicly how long Israeli forces should be allowed to remain in the Jordan Valley, assuring that nothing dangerous enters the newly sovereign state of Palestine from its eastern border: “Three years,” Abbas said, parrying Netanyahu’s apparent stand with a tart: “Whoever proposes 10 or 15 years does not want to withdraw.”
In the lobby, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman accepted handshakes and business cards. Friedman qualifies as a celebrity in Israel, sometimes described in the Hebrew press as the most important journalist in America, and his Wednesday column had laid out the main points of the Kerry framework in confident detail. But the next morning, the newsletter Israel News Today, a widely read English-language digest of the Hebrew press, began by noting that Friedman’s column “fails to make the front page” of Israel’s two largest-selling dailies. It’s just possible their editors figured that, between one leak and other, Israelis had already heard most of what was supposedly secret.