United States Secretary of State John Kerry might have just left Israel and the Middle East region this past Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, but he is planning to return for the second time in a week on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. Israeli leaders do not want to see him return to yet again push a peace deal agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel Hayom published on Thursday Jan. 9 and subsequently on Friday, Jan. 10 comments about Kerry's propsal by both annonymous Israeli officials and then cabinet minsters' responses. Additionally, on Monday, Jan. 6, Member of the Knesset Miri Regev of Likud sponsored a bill that will require Knesset approval on important issues in any peace deal including Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees, that will make more difficult for Kerry to get Israel to agree to his terms.
Considering opinions by most leaders in the region some of Kerry's plans are outrageous and "ridiculous," "unsophisticated" and "unusable," seemingly go against Israeli public opinion. Israeli leaders see Kerry as being "obsessive," Jerusalem Post called him a "nudnik." Most see him as having a broader agenda than just a peace agreement; they see him being motivated by political gains. It is speculated that Kerry might be considering mounting another presidential run, and peace in the Middle East is the ultimate accomplishment to run a campaign on.
Opposition is so strong that members of the Prime Minister's own party, Member of the Knesset Miri Regev of Likud are sponsoring a bill that will require Knesset approval on important issues in any peace deal including Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. Part of the bill reads; "Negotiations on these issues that began without the Knesset's consent will not be binding. In such an instance the government will not be bound by the result [of the negotiations]. And [neither the negotiations nor their result] will have any validity for the State of Israel, the Israeli government or any of the State of Israel's other governmental authorities."
Regev explained the purpose of this legislation; "The goal is to create a situation where negotiations on extreme concessions that harm the Jewish identity of the state and cause a wider rift between the Israeli people cannot proceed without consent from a majority of the Knesset members. An act like this is an invalid act, undemocratic and, according to this proposal, also illegal - this way if negotiations proceed without consent from the Knesset, they will not have any validity." The bill does not have strong chance of passing, but is symbolic of opposition to dividing Jerusalem or allowing Palestinian refugees to return to Israel as both Kerry and the Palestinians would like.
In an article published on Thursday, Jan. 9, Israel Hayom featured anonymous comments coming from Israeli leaders knowledgeable about the status of the negotiations. All think this that Kerry is being politically opportunistic; "The conduct of the U.S. secretary of state is obsessive… According to this line of thought, Kerry seems to think his path to the White House is via the signing of a Middle East peace agreement."
Some of the Israeli leaders' believe the Secretary of State does not know enough about the intricacies of the situation to be able to force an agreement; "Kerry is here in the region a lot, but he has almost no understanding of how things work in the Middle East. As a result, the American plan is unsophisticated, and does not answer the needs of both sides."
Continuing they expressed that Kerry's optimism about being close to a deal is far from true; "There is no connection between the positive statements Kerry is making in public and the details of the deal. He is, to put it mildly, very unfamiliar with the roots of the conflict, and as a result is incapable of bringing true solutions to the table. He can't even read maps of the region properly."
Israel wants to extend the peace talks for longer than the April 2014 deadline, still leaders are concerned of the ramifications of extending the talks, including the Palestinians demanding and Kerry and the U.S. agreeing, whether it be an additional prisoner releases or building freezes in the settlements. The official claims these "These demands will be backed by Kerry and turned into an American demand, accompanied by a threat. This, while the Arabs have never given anything in return, from the Oslo negotiations until today." Israel wants the deadline for an agreement pushed to January 2015, but will only agree to some building freezes in exchange; the Palestinians do not the talks to go beyond the April deadline previously agreed upon.
Once source claims the whole peace talks and meetings with Kerry is all done for show, so that Israel would not be blamed for not wanting peace;"Israel is forced to cooperate with the American plan, mainly out of concern that if we reject it, the U.S. will blame Israel for the failure of the negotiations." Still, the government is sure the Palestinians would reject a deal, and in the end there would be no agreement; "It is all done verbally. The Netanyahu government is cooperating with Kerry's initiative with the clear knowledge that the Arab side will not accept the agreement and ultimately [Israel] will not be required to make concessions or evacuate settlements."
Israeli cabinet ministers responded to Israel's Hayom's quotes from anonymous officials with most ministers from the right leaning parties agreeing with the descriptions of Kerry. Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely agreed with the anonymous officials that Kerry is pushing for an agreement solely to become President; "the peace process is more a personal political interest of Kerry's than it is an interest by the United States. He wants to succeed [U.S. President Barack] Obama."
While International Relations, Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz criticized Kerry's plan as delusional to have foreign troops guard the security of the strategic Jordan Valley; "Every time Israel even considered withdrawing from an area under its control in favor of a deal that would ensure its security interests the results were grave. The pretension, to present security arrangements for the Jordan Valley that would be based on electronic surveillance and foreign troops and expect Israel to trust its security to that, is unfounded. This pretension discounts reality." Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon echoed Steinitz saying; "Kerry has to understand that we will not trust the security of the State of Israel to foreign troops."
The U.S. intends to present an agreement framework to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority this month. The framework will touch on all issues and present the U.S. proposed solutions to them including borders and security, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees, it would contain "principles" not "specifics." It is considered a "logical step," and can also lead to adding time to the negations upward to a year to arrive at a final peace agreement.
The United States intends to propose in the framework that Israel abide the 1967 borders, while the Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state; the most basic demand Israel has had during the talks. However, there are a lot of divisions that make a deal unlikely including positions on settlement construction, the 1967 borders, the Palestinians refusal to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state and East Jerusalem which is non-negotiable to Israel and the Palestinians want for their own state capital. Palestinians also want a withdrawal of Israeli from both the West Bank settlement in Judea and Samaria and East Jerusalem, these areas have a significant Jewish population including 350,000 in the West Bank settlements and 200,000 living in East Jerusalem.
The Palestinians also oppose the U.S. proposed security plan would require that Israel Defense Forces IDF soldier maintain a presence in the Jordan Valley for 10 to 15 years after a peace agreement would be signed, with the border between the West Bank and Jordan itself remaining under Israeli control, additionally the U.S. would provide additional security technology. The Palestinians formally rejected the proposal, saying a NATO force and US soldiers be present in the region, but not Israeli soldiers. Israel is insistent about maintaining a presence in the region to ensure the country's security, but are "not satisfied" with the proposal either. Although what is clear is Netanyahu opposes any agreement that has foreign military watching over the Jordan Valley.
Adding to the elements that would prevent an agreement was a bill to annex the West Bank region of the Jordan Valley, a strategically important area. Prime Minister Netanyahu opposes the bill, even though it has the support of his all members of his Likud party in the Committee, it also has the support of the Bayit Yehudi party. The Ministerial Committee for Legislation passed the bill 8-3, which was introduced by Likud MK Miri Regev. The bill would not pass in the Knesset, but is symbolic to the opposition of the 1967 borders in any peace agreement.
Still this bill prompted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to declare the "annexation of the Jordan Valley" as a "red line" that would prevent any peace deal from being created. On Monday, Dec. 31, 2013 PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat stated the peace talks have failed and that "The Palestinian leadership should contact international organizations and institutions that would recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with its capital in Jerusalem."
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.