From Tuesday’s Yediot Ahronot, as translated in the emailed Daily News Update of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace comes a fairly detailed description by Alex Fishman of John Kerry’s game plan for restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Fishman is Yediot’s veteran, impeccably well-sourced military affairs correspondent. He attributes this information to State Department sources. It doesn’t appear on line (neither in Hebrew nor English) so I’m posting the Abraham Center’s translation below in full.
In brief, Fishman reports that Kerry is aiming for a 4-way meeting in Amman between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the United States and Jordan. (Kerry is very eager to have Jordan step in as a sponsor of peace talks, both to give Abbas some substantive Arab backing and to give King Abdullah II a boost.) You’ll note at once that Abbas is already refusing to attend without a clear gesture from Israel. In the past he’s demanded a full Israeli settlement freeze. Lately he’s begun demanding a map showing Bibi Netanyahu’s notion of a future Palestinian state. As I’ve reported in the past, Abu Mazen has been refusing to talk to Bibi (after willingly talking to Ehud Olmert before him) because his sense is that Bibi has no intention of ever ceding enough land for a real state. The idea of the map is to show that the talks will go somewhere, so Abu Mazen doesn’t enter a dead end and end up looking like a fool.
So if you stop reading after paragraph 2, you get the sense that Kerry’s plan is dead in the water. But Fishman goes on to report that Kerry thinks he can eventually get Bibi to give up some lesser concessions that will satisfy Abu Mazen and get the talks started. The two sides’ notions of final borders are impossibly far apart at this point, but Kerry is aiming for an interim agreement on Israel ceding 80% of the West Bank as a first stage. It’s a long shot, but who knows? So were the 1969 Mets…
The Kerry Plan By Alex Fishman, Yediot Ahronot, April 9, 2013 The new American secretary of state, John Kerry, is trying to get Israel and the Palestinians to sit down to a four-way meeting in Jordan. The answer he’s received from Abu Mazen, at least for the time being, has been flat out refusal.
The Palestinian Authority chairman told Kerry in his meeting that unless Israel first took some sort of meaningful action, he had no intention of attending any talks. Not in Jordan and not anywhere else for that matter. In order to discomfit Israel and to challenge Kerry even more, Abu Mazen also publicly announced that he was demanding to see in advance the Israeli map [of a future Palestinian state], despite the fact that he knows no such map exists. The four-way meeting in Amman is a crucial stage in the “war book” that Kerry has drafted for himself. Kerry has a clearly articulated plan that is supposed to get the two sides to agree to most of the terms that the Americans believe are the basis to a political arrangement between them. Kerry hasn’t yet written the final chapter of that book, in which he is supposed to present his efforts to President Obama for him to decide whether he sees a real chance for an agreement between the two sides and, as a consequence, declares a “presidential initiative” or, alternately, the US opts to give up and to let the process die. State Department sources said that Kerry’s effort is expected to take roughly six months, in the course of which he will be coming to the region every few weeks. Bolstering his support from the White House, Kerry has also changed the composition of the negotiating team and has brought in to work alongside him Phil Gordon, the member of the National Security Council who has replaced Dennis Ross. Gordon is expected to arrive tomorrow in Israel for a first working visit. The four-way meeting is supposed to conclude the preparatory stage and to begin the practical stage of talks. Choosing Jordan as a venue was no coincidence. The Americans have a deeply vested interest in strengthening the status of King Abdullah, and a meeting of this sort would demonstrate Jordan’s deeper involvement in the negotiations. Jordan is also supposed to serve as a keystone in the support group of moderate Arab countries. In the meantime, before the first chapter has even been acted out, a first obstacle has already been laid down—and it is hardly the largest one out there—in the form of the Palestinian refusal. In an effort to overcome that obstacle Kerry is now trying to get Israel to agree to make a series of confidence building measures that will bring Abu Mazen to Amman. Israel has already undertaken to turn over funds to the Palestinian Authority, and now the Americans expect Israel to take another number of steps, some of which will be done in secret. The chapter of secrets includes, for example, a request that Israel restrict construction in the territories outside the major settlement blocs. And the Palestinians? They have undertaken not to take independent initiatives to the UN, at least not in the next number of months. If Kerry gets through the stage of confidence building measures, he can then move to the next chapter, which is the summit meeting in Jordan. That is where the parties will begin to work towards reducing the gaps between the sides on the core issues. Kerry has already begun to put out feelers as to whether it might be possible to bring the sides closer to one another on the issue of security and borders. State Department officials said that on this issue the Americans were holding close to their chests an original plan that is likely to be very hard for the new Israeli government in its current format to accept. According to that plan, the parties can reach an agreement at present over 80% of the territory, since even the Israelis agree that only Palestinians live on 94% of the territories. The practical significance of that stage is to turn over parts of Area C to the Palestinians, on condition that they remain demilitarized. Kerry’s “war book” contains another chapter that is titled, “building a support group.” That group (Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, the Gulf states and some countries in North Africa) will back the Palestinian Authority, on the one hand, and will show good will towards Israel, on the other, in the spirit of the Saudi initiative. That support group will also have a role to play in the more general regional discourse about Syria, Iran and Jordan’s stability—issues in which Israel also has a vested interest.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).