As he heads to the United States this weekend for a meeting Monday at the White House with US President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is ready in principle to agree to Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework proposals for extending peace talks with the Palestinians, but is far less sanguine about the US-led international negotiations with Iran over its rogue nuclear program, The Times of Israel has learned.
On the understanding that Kerry’s framework proposals constitute a non-binding basis for extending the talks beyond the current April deadline, and with the provision that both sides can express their reservations over some of its clauses, the prime minister will not have to be pressured into endorsing the document, sources close to the prime minister said.
Netanyahu remains concerned about the US-drafted security proposals — which he believes do not constitute an adequate means for confronting terrorism in the West Bank, Israel’s Channel 10 News reported Friday — and opposes any formal legitimization of Palestinian claims to Jerusalem, the sources made clear, however. His office also said Thursday that Netanyahu “does not intend to evacuate any settlement or uproot a single Israeli” under a permanent accord, since he insists that settlers on the far side of a two-state border must be given the choice of evacuating or staying on in a Palestinian state — a stance first reported by The Times of Israel in January.
While Jerusalem anticipates that Obama, at their talks on Monday, will want to focus heavily on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Netanyahu is anxious to emphasize his concerns over the content of a permanent nuclear accord with Iran, which is currently being negotiated between Tehran and the P5+1 world powers. Primarily, Israel’s Channel 10 news reported Friday, Netanyahu is adamant that Iran must be denied any ongoing capacity to enrich uranium, since he fears that, as it improves its enrichment technology, it would be able to speed rapidly from low-level enriched uranium to nuclear weapons-grade enrichment levels. Obama, by contrast, has said he can envisage Iran maintaining the capacity to carry out low-level enrichment, under a highly intrusive inspection and supervision regime.
Netanyahu, who called the interim deal on Iran’s nuclear program, signed in Geneva in November and implemented in January, a “historic mistake,” is also concerned that the provisions of that deal did not prevent Iran from improving its enrichment centrifuges, and did not cover weaponization and missile development. If a permanent accord is to ensure that Iran never attain nuclear weapons, as the chief US negotiator Wendy Sherman said in Jerusalem last weekend, a permanent accord would have to cover those aspects, Netanyahu believes.
While the Israeli prime minister, who will address the annual AIPAC pro-Israel lobby’s annual Washington conference on Tuesday, is inclined to accept Kerry’s peace framework, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to resist it when he meets with Obama on March 17. Abbas’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Thursday that there was “no point” in extending the negotiations past April.
At the end of two days of talks with Kerry in Paris late last month, Abbas was reportedly left fuming over Kerry’s framework proposals. The US secretary reportedly suggested Abbas form a Palestinian capital in the neighborhood of Beit Hanina, not all of East Jerusalem, as the Palestinians have demanded. Kerry also suggested that Israel keep 10 settlement blocs as part of any territorial exchange, according to Al Quds, the most widely read Palestinian daily, on Wednesday. The Jordan Valley would not be part of a future Palestinian state, Palestinian sources told the paper, nor would there be an international force stationed there. And Kerry reportedly demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.
The report, which received no official confirmation, said Abbas exploded with rage over the US secretary’s proposals, and described them as “insanity.” The PA president threatened to “overturn tables” and to go back on the flexibility he had shown in order to facilitate the US-led peace efforts, according to Al Quds.
The paper suggested that Abbas’s subsequent invitation to meet Obama at the White House was a form of damage control on the part of the Americans.
The explosive nature of the meeting reported in the Palestinian daily, however, was far removed from the image projected by Abbas to the media in Paris, where he described American peace efforts as “extremely serious” and his talks with Kerry as “constructive.”
Israel’s Channel 2 news reported last month that the PA has decided to reject Kerry’s proposals and instead launch a global diplomatic and legal assault on Israel. The PA, it said, was setting up teams to wage diplomatic war against Israel in “every conceivable” forum, including pushing for boycotts of Israel and seeking legal rulings against Israel via international courts in The Hague.
Unless Kerry significantly changed the formulation of his proposals, the report said, the Palestinians would reject his overtures, confident that much of the international community will consider them to be the injured party and hold Israel responsible for the failure of peace efforts. The Palestinians are furious that Kerry is offering them a state “with no borders, no capital, no [control over] border crossings… and without Jerusalem,” the TV report said, quoting Palestinian sources.