Leaders have only days to save the peace process
The peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are on the brink of collapse.
Despite US President Barack Obama’s meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas this week, there is still virtually no clause in the current framework agreement — the core principles for negotiations — that both sides agree on.
Israel must free its fourth tranche of 26 prisoners by March 29 in order to keep the Palestinians in the talks, but Israeli ministers have said that there will be no prisoner release if the Palestinians do not first commit to staying in the negotiations.
US Secretary of State John Kerry — who staked his credibility on relaunching the talks nine months ago after a three-year hiatus — was expected to present the two sides with a framework agreement three months ago. No such document has yet materialised.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly committed himself to a two-state solution. However, the Palestinians are demanding he also commit to basing the borders of the two states on the pre-1967 lines and present a map of his proposed borders.
The Palestinians are also demanding the framework agreement includes a specific mention of a future Palestinian capital in Jerusalem.
Israeli demands include a permanent security presence in the Jordan Valley, while the US supports the Palestinian position that an international forced should be based there instead.
Another Israeli demand in dispute is that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state; something that Mr Abbas strongly objects to.
While supporting the Israeli demand for recognition of a Jewish state in principle, the Obama administration has tried to get Mr Netanyahu to drop the requirement from the framework agreement.
“I think it’s a mistake for some people to be raising it again and again as the critical decider of their attitude toward the possibility of a state and peace,” Mr Kerry said last weekend.
The issue was raised again by Mr Abbas on Monday following a meeting at the White House with Mr Obama. “In 1993, we recognised the state of Israel,” he said.
Mr Obama did not mention the issue but he called on the Palestinian president “to take some tough political decisions and risks if we’re to move”. Acknowledging the current difficulties, he tried to sound optimistic, saying: “my hope is that we can continue to see progress in the coming days and weeks”.
The impasse in the talks is being exacerbated by the crisis between Russia and the US over Crimea, with the administration and, particularly Mr Kerry, unable to direct the necessary attention on the push for a breakthrough.
Realising that the chances of achieving a framework agreement that would enable the talks to continue is next to impossible, the US has begun floating an alternative plan. It proposes to have the Palestinians agree to extend the talks for a few more months, during which time Israel freezes settlement building.
However, the chances of Mr Netanyahu keeping his coalition intact for that long now seem very slim. Habayit Hayehudi leader, Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, told the JC last month that while his party will not try to block the peace talks, a settlement freeze would force them to leave the government.