After the UN Security Council passed resolution 2334, Sec. Of State Kerry defended the U.S. decision not to veto it. At that time, in a newsletter titled ‘Kerry and 2334’ we wrote, ‘In this newsletter, we examine the many failings of UN resolution 2334 and the speech by Sec. of State John Kerry. That speech was intended to be a rationale for the US refusal to veto UN 2334. In fact, a careful reading of Kerry’s speech shows that UN 2334 is a mistake and should have been vetoed. Everything that makes sense and shows an awareness of the realities in Kerry’s speech is missing from UN 2334.’

With the revelation of a secret summit, reported by Barak Ravid in Haaretz of February 19, Kerry’s speech falls into place. Ravid writes, ‘Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took part in a secret summit in Aqaba a year ago where then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented a plan for a regional peace initiative including recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and a renewal of talks with the Palestinians with the support of the Arab countries. Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi were also present at the meeting in the Jordanian city.’ In fact Netanyahu claims to be the mover behind this meeting.

It was the peace plan presented at Aqaba that Kerry defended in his speech and he did a terrible job of papering over the differences between that plan and UNSC 2334.

At Aqaba, Sec. Kerry put forth a set of six principles as a basis for a peace agreement, namely:
1) International secure and recognized borders between Israel and a sustainable and contiguous Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with agreed-on exchanges of territory.
2) Implementation of the vision of UN Resolution 181 (the Partition Plan) for two states for two peoples, one Jewish and one Arab – which recognize each other and give equal rights to their citizens.
3) A just, agreed-on, fair and realistic solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees that conforms to a solution of two states for two peoples and will not influence the basic character of Israel.
4) An agreed-on solution for Jerusalem as the capital of both countries, recognized by the international community and ensuring freedom of access to the holy sites in keeping with the status quo.
5) A response to Israel’s security needs, ensuring Israel’s ability to protect itself effectively and ensuring Palestine’s ability to give security to its citizens in a sovereign, demilitarized state.
6) The end of the conflict and of demands, which will allow a normalization of ties and increased regional security for all, in keeping with the vision of the Arab Peace Initiative.

All in all, a seemingly reasonable set of principles, with some give needed from both sides. However, it’s clear that such a plan would not be supported by the Palestinians or by the Israeli governing coalition.

Principle 3) is anathema to the Palestinian leadership. In plain English, it says that there will be no ‘right of return’ for Palestinians to Israel. Principle 5) states that the proposed Palestinian State will be demilitarized,

From an Israeli perspective, a ‘right of return’ of Palestinians would mean an end of the dream of a Jewish state. In addition, Principle 1) states that there be ‘a sustainable and contiguous Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with agreed-on exchanges of territory.’ This would rule out the right wing (Bayit Yehudi) plan to annex Area C of the West Bank. As Wikipedia explains, ‘Area C, which contains the Israeli settlements is administered by Israel. Areas A and B were chosen in such a way as to just contain Palestinians, by drawing lines around Palestinian population centers at the time the Agreement was signed; all areas surrounding the Areas A and B were defined as Area C.’ Area C contains ~60% of the area of the West Bank and comparatively few Palestinians. Annexation of Area C by Israel leaves the Palestinians with a non-contiguous, non-viable entity constituting just 40% of the West Bank.

For Israeli acceptance of Kerry’s principles, a broadened governing coalition in Israel was needed. As Barak Ravid writes, ‘But the secret summit in Aqaba had an almost immediate effect on domestic Israeli politics. It provided the basis on which two or three weeks later Netanyahu and Herzog discussed a national unity government. During the contacts, Netanyahu briefed Herzog on the summit in Aqaba. Herzog, who was skeptical, tried to clarify whether there was anything to it. He spoke by phone with Kerry, Abdullah and Sissi on the details. The leaders of Egypt and Jordan were skeptical over Netanyahu’s ability to advance a genuine diplomatic process with his governing coalition. The two viewed the entry of Herzog or Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid into Netanyahu’s coalition as “earnest money” on the part of Netanyahu that would justify their pressing the Palestinians, or an effort to enlist the participation of Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries in a regional summit.’

Bibi then did a number on Isaac Herzog, using Aqaba to advance his personal agenda. Herzog negotiated conditions for a Zionist Union entry into the government. As Herzog states (Haaretz Feb. 23), ‘Throughout my political life I have been committed to seek peace, so I decided to take the opportunity with an open mind, after receiving explicit requests from the major leaders in our region and in world politics. These leaders saw the Zionist Union’s joining the government as proof that Israel was serious. They even confirmed to me that Netanyahu had explicitly expressed his commitment to advance the move, in which he himself played a major role.’

As the Israeli public was unaware of the secret meeting at Aqaba, Herzog’s vacillation on joining the government created an impression of him as a nebbish. Then when it became clear that Bibi was using Herzog to get Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) to join the coalition, the image of Herzog, the nebbish, was engraved on the Israeli consciousness.
Beside neutering Herzog, Bibi then had the coalition that he wanted – one that guaranteed that there would be no change in the status quo. He could tell President Obama that his governing coalition would fall – were he to agree to the US initiative on a peace agreement. He could then turn around and tell the extremist elements in the coalition that there could be no new settlements in the West Bank because of US opposition. In spite of Bibi’s aversion to President Obama, it was Obama’s opposition to settlement expansion that made a coalition with a do-nothing settlement policy viable.

The election of Donald Trump as President presented a problem for Bibi. If Trump did not object to settlement expansion, how could Bibi maintain the status quo. Fortunately for Bibi, (or perhaps after some persuasion from Bibi), the Trump doctrine on settlements has become, “While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal.” At the meeting between Trump and Bibi, Trump requested that Bibi ‘hold back on settlements for a little bit.’ Trump has also stated, ‘“(settlements are not) a good thing for peace, and every time you {Israel} take land for a settlement, there is less land left for the Palestinians.”

Trump has saved Bibi from right wing extremist demands. The center-left has been neutered. The status quo can be maintained. If Bibi stays out of jail, he could be PM for the next decade. Niccolo Machiavelli would be proud of his prize student.