US Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Tel Aviv on Thursday afternoon, returning to the Middle East for the tenth time this year to push peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Kerry was to meet Thursday afternoon with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and on Friday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, to try to get them to agree to at least the outlines of a final peace agreement.
A US State Department official said that while Kerry doesn’t expect a “big breakthrough” during his trip to the region this week, he is likely to present both sides with a framework agreement which would touch on core issues, including the borders between Israel and a future Palestine; security; Palestinian refugees; and conflicting claims to the holy city of Jerusalem, the official said.
The official also said if the parties agreed on a framework for negotiating a final peace deal, it might not be made public to avoid exposing the leaders to political pressures at home. Netanyahu is reported ready to continue talks on the basis of a framework deal, even if it references a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 lines, provided he is not required to sign it.
A framework accord might not even be enough to ensure a subsequent face-to-face meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas, an indication of the wide gaps remain. Kerry’s security proposals, which reportedly provide for the presence of IDF troops to secure the West Bank-Jordan border after a permanent deal is reached, have reportedly been rejected by Abbas. The sides also differ widely on possible land-swap arrangements, and are reportedly deadlocked on some core issues, including Jerusalem and the refugees.
Israeli officials decided to delay announcing planned new settlement construction while Kerry is visiting the region, saying it was inappropriate to make the announcement during the American diplomat’s stay.
Kerry’s arrival comes days after Israel released a third group of Palestinian prisoners and amid a row over reported plans by Netanyahu to authorize construction of 1,400 homes over the pre-1967 Green Line — 600 in Jerusalem, and 800 in West Bank settlements. Abbas has urged the US to block the plans and on Tuesday threatened to rally the UN against Israel’s settlements, which he termed a “cancer.”
Kerry is asking both Netanyahu and Abbas to make tough, highly charged political decisions that would yield the contours of an eventual peace treaty, creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Netanyahu is likely to be asked to accept — with some modifications — the lines that existed in 1967 before Israel captured Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Abbas fears being asked to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people and give up the so-called “right of return” for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were expelled in the war over Israel’s creation in 1948.
Negotiators from both sides have had some 20 rounds of talks since summer. Just four months remain until a US-set target date for a final agreement.
Underlying the ongoing impasse is the lack of agreement on ground rules. Kerry hopes progress will be possible once the two sides agree on the outlines of a deal.
Kerry has kept his ideas for a framework under wraps, but has said the contours of a deal are known after two decades of intermittent negotiations.