US Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that Israeli and Palestinian leaders will have a chance to “express reservations” on the American peace framework agreement that will be the basis of ongoing talks — even though members of both negotiating teams have stated that giving the leaders a chance to voice dissent could be a mistake.
In an interview with The Washington Post’s David Ignatius, Kerry argued that, for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, such caveats provide “the only way for them to politically be able to keep the negotiations moving… For them as leaders to be able to embrace an endgame, they need to have the right to be able to have some objection.”
The secretary also touched on Abbas’s recent statements in support of a phased withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Jordan Valley over five years and in acceptance of NATO troops as a potential buffer force in the absence of the IDF.
Abbas recently stated he would agree to a NATO force in the Jordan Valley as a way of assuaging Israeli fears that the potentially porous border between Jordan and a future Palestinian state would allow the transfer of weapons and terror activists. Netanyahu rejects the idea of international forces, saying only Israel can provide its own security.
Abbas also said that the IDF could patrol the border areas for up to three years after the signing of a peace treaty. He later told The New York Times a withdrawal over five years would be acceptable too. Netanyahu wants an ongoing IDF presence.
An earlier American proposal that Israel station IDF soldiers in the Jordan Valley for the first 10 years after the signing of a peace deal with the Palestinians garnered angry reactions from Palestinian leaders in December.
“Netanyahu has made it clear he doesn’t want NATO [in the Jordan Valley],” Kerry said, adding that a third-party force would be something the parties could work out by themselves.
For his part, after coming under fire for warning of an Israeli boycott if the negotiations collapse, Kerry said those comments, made in Munich last weekend, were “taken out of context.” He added that “there are those who do not want a two-state solution, who don’t believe in it. There are those who don’t want to stop settling certain parts of the region.”
Kerry had retorted Wednesday that he would not be intimidated by criticism of his role.
Kerry became the subject of criticism from the Israeli right, including cabinet ministers, in the wake of his speech at the Munich Security Conference, where he warned that Israel faces an “increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There are talk of boycotts and other kinds of things.” He also said Israel’s current prosperity and security were “illusory.”
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, Housing Minister Uri Ariel, Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan and other right-wing leaders leveled a series of accusations against Kerry, including that he was anti-Israel and that his warnings of boycotts effectively empowered the boycott campaign. Others, including Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, insisted Kerry had defended Israel and that any disagreement with him must be substantive rather than personal, although Netanyahu also declared he would not be swayed by boycott threats.
“You must not know the Jewish nation; the Jewish nation is stronger than these threats. We will not collapse in the face of intimidation,” Bennett said on Monday.
“It’s difficult to accept Kerry’s explanation that he was describing the situation as an onlooker,” Erdan said at a convention in Jerusalem, also Monday. “He appears more like someone trying to fan the flames of threats against Israel’s economy.”
On Friday, by contrast, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman extolled the US secretary at a trade conference in Tel Aviv. “I want to make something clear,” he said: “Kerry is a true friend of Israel. What’s the point of turning friends into enemies?
“John Kerry is leading the process correctly,” he continued. “We are now creating principles with the Americans in order to negotiate directly with the Palestinians, based on them.”
Later Friday, the State Department welcomed Liberman’s praise of the secretary. “We certainly welcomed his remarks and his sentiment and the importance of the peace process, and it’s a reflection of, of course, the belief of many people in Israel that a two-state solution is the right outcome at the end of this process,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a press briefing.
“It certainly is a powerful statement and a powerful message given his [Liberman’s] history and his background on these issues and where his view was,” she added. “It doesn’t mean there’s an end to opponents for a two-state solution, an end to opponents of a peace process, but certainly, we’re hopeful that we can get back to the focus on the difficult issues at hand.”
Kerry concluded his interview by touching on the feasibility of achieving a peace deal. “Everybody understands that it’s going to take some period of time for a transition. That’s why it is phased,” he said. “What is critical, I think, is to give people a sense that there can be an end of the conflict and an end of claims, that there is a framework within which it is all contained.”