According to a news report from Haaretz released early Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his senior cabinet ministers that he absolutely will not agree to dividing of Jerusalem in any framework for a peace agreement. This comes after Economy Minister and Chairman of the Bayit Yehudi Party Naftali Bennett threatened to leave the coalition government should a framework divide Jerusalem, withdraw from Judea and Samaria, evicting Jews from their homes in the West Bank settlements. On Saturday, Jan. 11, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas responded that the Palestinians would never agree to a peace deal without East Jerusalem for their capital. This happened just days after United States Secretary of State John Kerry was in Israel for his 10th trip to force a peace agreement with concessions that are unpopular to Israeli leaders.
According to a senior official present Netanyahu promised he would absolutely not agree any framework that even hints at dividing Jerusalem and establishing a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. According to Haaretz "Netanyahu made it clear he would insist on this, even at the cost of the failure of the talks on the framework agreement." An Israeli official told Haaretz that Netanyahu talks much tougher to his cabinet and Likud Party members, but has been more vague in his meetings with Kerry, where he "only tried to flatten and thin out the reference to Jerusalem"
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.
According to a Palestinian Authority official Kerry is looking to Jordan to take control of Jerusalem's holy sites in the old city so they would be under neither Israeli nor Palestinian control if East Jerusalem is given to the Palestinians. However, some other reports suggested Kerry wants the holy sites under international management.
Also on Friday, Jan. 10 the Israeli government announced tenders for the construction of 1800 new homes Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria (Shomron), Israel had planned to announce the building plans simultaneously with the third prison release on Dec. 30, 2013, but instead it was postponed until after Kerry had left from his trip to the region. The tenders are divided by "801 units in Judea and Samaria" and "600 units in East Jerusalem, with an additional 532 being "remarketed" in East Jerusalem. Each time Netanyahu has been forced to release Palestinian prisoners he has accompanied that announcement with that for additional construction in the settlements.
The chief Palestinian Authority negotiator for the peace talks Saeb Erekat believes with the announcement, Netanyahu is saying a strong message to Kerry that Israel will not agree to the 1967 borders for any framework agreement and that the "peace talks are over." Erekat told the AFP that "The new settlement construction is a message from (Prime Minister Binyamin) Netanyahu to Kerry not to come back to the region to continue his efforts in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Every time Kerry has stepped up his efforts, returning to the region (for more talks), Netanyahu has stepped up his efforts to destroy the peace process. Netanyahu is determined to destroy the two-state solution."
The American response came from US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki during the daily briefing on Friday, Jan. 10, who stated the new construction announcement is "not conducive to our efforts to move forward on peace. We consider now and have always considered the settlements to be illegitimate."
Netanyahu's decision to refuse any framework dividing Jerusalem may have a lot to do with the coalition crisis he is experiencing since before Kerry's last trip to Israel of peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett and head of the right leaning Bayit Yehudi party has been threatening to leave Netanyahu's coalition government should the Prime Minister agree to the 1967 borders and especially return East Jerusalem that houses Judaism's most holiest sites and evict more citizens from the West Bank settlements.
Bennett gave a speech Tuesday, Jan. 7 at the Institute for National Security Studies claiming that Israel should never agree to the terms Kerry wants, especially pointing out those relating to agreeing to the 1967 lines, borders and splitting Jerusalem. These areas have a significant Jewish population including 350,000 in the West Bank settlements and 200,000 living in East Jerusalem.
Bennett made his point clear; "We won’t play with words anymore: the ’67 lines’ means splitting Jerusalem, and giving up the Mount of Olives – where Menachem Begin, Rabbi Kook, and Eliezer Ben-Yehuda are buried – and giving up the Kotel, the Temple Mount and the Old City.”
Bennett listed his party's "red lines" regarding any peace deal or remaining in the coalition government; "These are the decisions that take real leadership. That we will never agree to give up Jerusalem, a united city under Israeli sovereignty, and only Israeli. We will not accept a terrorist Palestinian state, we will not accept an agreement based on the 67 lines. We will not exchange territory as if we were doing cut-and-paste on some Word document on the computer. We will not agree to a border along Highway 6, meaning rockets on Highway 4."
Bennett's threat to leave the government was something he reiterated in his speech Tuesday; "We will not stay in a government that endangers our children's future and divides our capital due to international pressure. We won't sit in a government that makes the easy, and dangerous, decision."
According to Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon who spoke Tuesday, Jan. 7 at IDF Central Command headquarters Netanyahu has not committed to any "framework agreement," but it all remains in the negotiation phase; "We are not working on a framework agreement, but on a framework for negotiations, for continuing the negotiations for a longer period. Our interest is certainly to continue negotiations, and continue to act to stabilize the situation, and our relationship with the Palestinians."
Netanyahu told his Likud party members at the weekly faction meeting on Monday, Jan. 6 that "there is no American framework document yet." He also explained that even when there is a framework agreement it will not be binding to either side. The Prime Minister also stated that he had no plans to make "territorial concessions" regarding either the Jordan Valley, West Bank, settlements or East Jerusalem. That he ensures Israel will keep all the "major" settlements even "Hebron and Beit El" that are “important to the Jewish people.” According to Israel's Channel 10 Netanyahu will not allow any of the settlements to be dismantled in a potential peace deal. Netanyahu referring to the 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, told his party; "We saw what happened when we closed our eyes and dismantled settlements. In the best case we get peace; in the worst, we get Afghanistan."
At the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Jan. 5, the cabinet spent two hours discussing and debating Palestinian incitement of violence and terrorism as an obstacle to any peace agreement. PM Netanyahu stated in his opening remarks; "At today's meeting, we will discuss the periodic index of incitement in the Palestinian Authority. To my regret, this incitement is continuing. We have seen examples in recent days. Opposition to recognizing the Jewish state and our right to be here is continuing. We are not foreigners in Jerusalem, Beit El or Hebron. I reiterate that in my view, this is the root of both the conflict and the incitement, the non-recognition of this basic fact."
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz stated; "we must not ignore the fact that the Palestinian educational system and media, under the patronage of Abu Mazen [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] and during the negotiations, are educating and inciting - on a daily basis - for the destruction of the State of Israel."
On Saturday, Jan. 11, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas responded to Netanyahu's position on Jerusalem, and stated that Palestinians will never agree to a peace deal that does not give them East Jerusalem for their capital, and said; "We won't accept the Jewishness of Israel. We are asking for the 1967 borders." Abbas was also firm that he will not agree to extend the talks beyond April, stating; "After that, we are free to do what we want. The talks are limited to this period."
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.