Secretary of State John Kerry began the New Year by flying to the Middle East in another attempt to push the reluctant negotiators closer to an agreement. This time he is said to be bringing a bridging proposal to help narrow the gaps on the critical final status issues.
Unlike Henry Kissinger, whose brand of shuttle diplomacy involved staying in the region and flying back and forth between Jerusalem and Arab capitals, Kerry commutes from Washington. This is his 10th trip since talks began last summer and the frequency is expected to increase as the April target date nears.
The original intention – hope is more like it – was to have a full fledged peace agreement by this spring, but the talk now is about a framework agreement to focus the talks over the summer months.
Kerry earlier brought some security proposals, which reportedly were more acceptable to Israel than the Palestinians. This time he will be covering the other final status issues:
Borders – The U.S. recently added to its team overseeing the negotiations David Makovsky, a former scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, who is an authority on the border issue and the author of a detailed – and well received – study on the subject, including several proposals for land swaps. He is highly respected on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides and has long enjoyed good access and credibility with both. The objective is to meet Israel’s desire the retain the major settlement blocs and the Palestinians’ need for compact and contiguous state with realistic borders.
Refugees – The big problem here is that the Palestinian leadership keeps promising an unfettered right of return for everyone displaced sicne 1948 and all their descendants. They know it is unrealistic, in fact impossible, and admit it privately, but their failure to speak truth to their own people could prove dangerous. Ultimately, look for token family reunification and return, generous compensation, and Israeli apology for displacing people, and resettlement in Palestine and elsewhere.
Jerusalem – The Palestinians want their capital to be in East Jerusalem, but Prime Minister Netanyahu says he opposes any re-division of Jerusalem. Several of his predecessors had already indicated a willingness to split the Jewish and Palestinian sections of the city. If talks are to succeed, it must be done.
Jewish State – Netanyahu has added a new condition to making peace. The Palestinians must recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. He says that is essential to ending Arab claims and ending the conflict. The Palestinians say that would abandon non-Jewish residents of Israel, about 20 percent of the population, to second class citizenship status; however, they say they are willing to agree to end all claims and the conflict as part of a peace treaty.
Kerry appears to want peace more than the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, who seem to be sending their delegations to the table more to appease the Americans and avoid being blamed for the failure of the talks than to find a way to make peace. Don’t expect any real progress until the Israelis and Palestinians elect new leaders who genuinely want peace and are ready to do what they must to protect, preserve and defend the peaceful future of their two peoples.