The Palestinian Authority has informed US Secretary of State John Kerry that it will not accept his framework peace proposal as it currently stands, PA officials told The Times of Israel.
The officials claimed that the Obama administration’s current proposal, which is intended to serve as the basis for continued talks on a two-state solution, includes pretty much everything Israel demanded — almost down to the last detail — but does not address vital requirements from the Palestinian side. (Israeli officials have voiced numerous objections of their own to the reported terms, with Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon quoted as describing the security aspect of the document, for instance, as “not worth the paper it’s printed on.”)
The Palestinian officials detailed to The Times of Israel what they said were the main clauses of the framework proposal.
Peace talks resumed last July and are due to end in April unless Kerry can persuade the two sides to continue negotiations.
Israeli officials have indicated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is inclined to accept the framework terms, on the basis that they are non-binding and that he can express objections to them, though this has not been confirmed. Netanyahu is to meet with President Barack Obama in Washington on March 3.
Central clauses of the framework deal as presented by Kerry, and rejected by the PA, the Palestinian officials said, are as follows:
Borders: The peace agreement is to be based on pre-1967 lines, but will take into consideration changes on the ground in the decades since.
Settlements: There will be no massive evacuation of “residents.”
Refugees: Palestinian refugees will be able to return to Palestine or remain where they currently live. In addition, it is possible that a limited number of refugees could be allowed into pre-1967 Israel as a humanitarian gesture, and only with Israeli acquiescence. Nowhere is it written that Israel bears responsibility for suffering caused to the refugees.
Capital: The Palestinian capital will be in Jerusalem.
Security: Israel has the right to defend itself, by itself.
The Jordan Valley: The IDF will retain a presence in the Jordan Valley. The length of time the IDF will remain will depend on the abilities of the Palestinian security forces.
Border crossings: Israel will continue to control border crossings into Jordan.
Definition of the countries: Two states will result, “a national state of the Jewish people and a national state of the Palestinian people.”
Senior Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel that many of the above clauses are unacceptable to the PA for several reasons.
For a start, the references to the borders and settlements leave too much room for Israeli interpretation. “What does ‘There will be no widespread evacuation of residents’ mean?” asked one official. “This means that Israel will want to keep a bigger percentage of the West Bank and this point is not acceptable to us. What does ‘Taking into consideration changes on the ground since then’ mean? I mean, Israel continues to build settlements.”
The official continued: “The same with the refugee issue; there is no recognition of Palestinian suffering. We want an expression of regret, an Israeli admission of the suffering caused to us. Where did it disappear to? And the humanitarian gesture [for a limited entry of Palestinian refugees into Israel] that depends on Israel’s consent doesn’t leave much to the imagination,” the official said, indicating that Israel would not likely be generous on this issue.
The official added that a still more problematic issue for the PA is Jerusalem.
“When the Palestinian capital is defined as ‘in Jerusalem,’ what does it mean? In Shuafat? In Issawiya? We demanded that the Palestinian capital would be al-Quds a-Sharqiya (East Jerusalem). But Netanyahu refused firmly, and the US administration accepted his position.
“What about security and the Jordan Valley? What does it mean that Israel has the right to defend itself, by itself? We will not agree to the entry of Israeli troops into the PA territory. And as for the ongoing presence of the army in the Jordan Valley, it’s ridiculous to set the timeline [for the IDF's exit] according to ‘the abilities of the PA security forces.’ Who will determine that ability? And who will say, ‘That’s it, the PA is ready to assume responsibility for the Valley’?”
(For its part, Israel would likely have significant objections to the Kerry framework terms if they are drafted as claimed by the Palestinians. Israel has indicated that the relatively minor alterations to the pre-1967 lines envisaged by the PA are inadequate, and that there will have to be larger land swaps to accommodate most of the settlers. Netanyahu further wants any Jews whose settlements are on the Palestinian side of an agreed border to be given the option of staying on under Palestinian rule, an official in his office told The Times of Israel last month — a stance rejected by Abbas. Israel is adamantly opposed to any “return” for any Palestinian refugees to today’s Israel. Netanyahu has reportedly insisted that there be no suggestion of legitimate Palestinian claims to Jerusalem in the framework document. And he has insisted that the IDF secure the West Bank-Jordan border even after Palestinian statehood.)
On Tuesday, when Nabil Abu Rudeineh, PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s official spokesman, referred to Kerry’s framework agreement, he surprised observers by saying that if both sides get to raise objections to its content, as Kerry has said they will be permitted to, it would empty the agreement of all its content.
Rudeineh’s statement was hard to fathom, given the significant reservations the Palestinians have with the current version. Almost all senior Palestinian officials with whom The Times of Israel has spoken in recent days made clear that the PA does not have the legitimacy, in the eyes of the public, to accept the Kerry proposals.
“We said ‘No’ to him in the past, and we will say it again in the future,” a senior PA administrator said. According to this official, accepting the current version of the framework accord is unthinkable for the PA. The official did not hide his anger toward the US administration, and of course, toward Israel.
“We have reached many achievements in recent years. We have attained stability and quiet [in the West Bank],” he said this week in Ramallah. “But you [the Israelis] are now allowing the situation deteriorate. Your security echelon understands the problems and the difficulties. But the political leadership does not care at all. Everyone is acting on the basis of his or her own political interests. [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Liberman is winking at the center; Netanyahu is afraid of the right; the Jewish Home party is hardening its position; and [Justice Minister and chief negotiator Tzipi] Livni is too weak. So you ask me if there is a partner for peace? The answer is ‘No.’”
Asked how events would play out if the PA rejects the framework proposal when Kerry presents it, the official said, “All options are open to us, whether contacting international institutions [to seek to advance Palestinian statehood unilaterally] or in other ways.
But, he warned, “I have no doubt that the situation on the ground will get worse. For both sides. The stability we have grown used to will start to crack.”
There are a number of reasons for this, he went on, and listed a litany of grievances. “One, the steps of the Israeli occupation and the settlers. The arrest, land confiscations, house demolitions, and of course violence against settlers. Two, the high youth unemployment rate. There are no economic opportunities for young Palestinians and one of the central reasons for this is lack of land for development. Area C — 60% of the West Bank — is under full Israeli control, and we are not allowed to build there or invest in various projects. Three, the stopping of international aid programs. I include here UNRWA budget cuts. This leads to a sharp increase in poverty and unemployment, specifically in the poorest places like the refugee camps.
“Four,” he continued, “Hamas and the extremist factions don’t want the situation to stabilize, and are doing a lot in order to undermine it. I’m talking about dozens of cells that have been detained in the past year by Palestinian security forces, which planned attacks against Israelis and against the PA. They are also initiating demonstrations and popular protests, and are using the settlers’ crimes in order to attack the PA. Five, Jerusalem and al-Aqsa. Your actions there, such as the visits of right-wing politicians to the mount, hurt the feelings of every Arab and Palestinian.”
The PA is also having trouble digesting the Israeli insistence on the Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, he noted.
“We have no intention of dragging this conflict in a religious direction. Every sensible person in the Middle East is trying to keep religion away from the various conflicts, except for you. What’s in it for you? The conflict between us is not religious. So why do you need our recognition that your state is Jewish? In your ID cards, your nationality is listed as ‘Israeli’ and not as ‘Jewish.’ You never asked such a thing of Egypt or Jordan. What is your concern? We are telling you outright: the peace agreement will bring about the end of the conflict and the end of all claims. So what is all this nonsense you are saying that this proves we won’t accept the state of Israel? The whole world recognizes you. These are not the days of the founding, when the world didn’t accept you. But you’re still stuck in that mindset.”
Netanyahu has called Palestinian recognition of Israel as the “Jewish state” his “first and most unshakable demand.” “Recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people means completely abandoning the ‘right of return’ and ending any other national demands over the land and sovereignty of the State of Israel,” he said last October. “This is a crucial component for a genuine reconciliation and stable and durable peace.”
‘Israel is in touch with Hamas and Dahlan’
The disaffection with Israel, as expressed by the Palestinian Authority leadership, is not confined to the dispute over the framework document and the terms of a final-status agreement. Abbas’s associates have a growing sense that the Israeli government is working behind the Palestinian scenes to corner him politically and force him to compromise. They claim to have proof of a direct link between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, as well as with out-of-favor former Abbas confidant Mohammad Dahlan, despite Israeli officials’ denials.
According to Abbas’s affiliates, secretive talks between Hamas and Israel are being mediated by Qatar, and not Egypt, which views Hamas as a serious threat to regional stability.
“We see what Israel is trying to do here — to undermine our internal affairs and to force Abbas to compromise,” said a PA official. “But this leads us to harden our positions rather than show any will to concede. You need to understand, the overthrow Hamas carried out in Gaza will not repeat itself in the West Bank. Instead of strengthening moderates, Israel is trying to weaken us. The entire region currently suffers from a rise of extremism and terror activities. You must cooperate with us in order to achieve peace, not fight with us.”
It may be that the warnings about a likely deteriorating security situation, and even the pledge to say no to the Americans, some Palestinians analysts said this week, are empty threats by the PA. These analysts estimate that Abbas would prefer not to get into a direct confrontation with the US administration, and that, therefore, he is more likely to give Kerry a “Yes, but,” rather than an outright “No.”
Yet the sensitivity of Abbas’s political situation, and the deteriorating reality on the ground, cannot be ignored. Criticism of the PA’s governance is widely heard in the Palestinian street. More and more allegations of corruption are emerging, after years in which it seemed that the level of such abuse was receding.
Law and order in the West Bank is also said to be weakening. Residents of Ramallah-area refugee camps like Jalazun and Qalandiya, and those near Nablus and Jenin, increasingly speak of armed men moving around at night, worsening violence, and even a rise in drug use. PA policemen are involved in selling weapons in some cases, PA officials have acknowledged.
Some of the reasons for the decline in the PA’s functioning are likely related to the departure of prime minister Salam Fayyad, and his replacement by Rami Hamdallah. Hamdallah is more focused on political confrontation with Israel and less on building a state, according to some Palestinian commentators. This is also seen in the significant weakening of the Palestinian court system, they said, and in the dwindling funds in the state treasury.
Of late monthly salaries to PA officials were paid without a reliance on foreign donations, PA Finance Minister Shukri Bishara recently announced. But Palestinian officials predicted that by next month, funds in the PA coffers will have dwindled again to the point where it would once again struggle to pay its employees.