That Benjamin Netanyahu will be meeting President Obama next month is hardly surprising. Despite a recent rift over remarks made by Secretary of State John Kerry accurately warning of a sea of isolation for Israel, the U.S. and Israel are close allies. The U.S. has warned of isolation, but rightly plans to play no part in it.
But this meeting comes against the backdrop of the successor to the Clinton parameters and Bush’s Roadmap. The Kerry Parameters, or ‘the framework’ may simply be a way to extend the negations past the April deadline, an admirable goal. Or it can be a ground-shifting document that finally brings both sides to recognizing what is necessary and what is unbending dogma; what is required for security and what is economic.
I’ve long been a cautious observer, but this may be the time for the Obama administration to strike. In December, I argued that Netanyahu’s current coalition makeup is the most stable available to him. Consequently, Kerry’s framework should not disturb this equilibrium of right and center-left.
But this option may no longer be available. Last week, Naftali Bennett directly referenced the framework as a red line for his Bayit Yehudi party. The coalition may very well be thrown into disarray the instant both sides agree to the framework, even if nominal ‘objections’ are permitted. The framework’s likely allusion to permanent borders may even be too much for National Union faction leader Uri Ariel, whom according to Yossi Verter, rather likes his cozy position as Housing Minister. Kerry and his envoy, Martin Indyk, must be prepared for this scenario, which may involve new elections. Therefore, the agreement should leverage Israel’s security establishment’s support for two states to the max.
The framework must first call for negotiations based on the pre-67 lines. Despite Netanyahu’s longstanding opposition to these borders, any agreement that will last requires this, especially if the Arab League countries are to recognize Israel. Mutual, 1:1 land swaps will compensate Palestinians for large West Bank settlements annexed to Israel.
The proposed framework is also expected to include at least a short term Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley, with an American-funded, high tech security zone installed thereafter. This is good, but the proposal on the Jordan Valley should clearly favor the Israeli argument for a more long term IDF presence in the valley. This will lend ammunition to the Israeli centrists––who will perhaps be led by a Likud-less Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman––and soften the blow on pre-67 borders. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s proposal for a NATO force to patrol the area should be seriously considered as well, but only after at least a ten-year IDF presence.
Finally, the framework should deal with a resolution to the refugee issue and Holy Sites, but should steer clear of other historical matters that will only allow both sides to stick their feet into the ground. This is by no means simple, but it will bode ill for all sides if the talks break down over refugees or Holy Sites, strengthening the hardliners who view peace as an existential threat.