After security plan, ‘Kerry to present US blueprint for deal on all core issues’

Undeterred by tepid Israeli and Palestinian response to security proposals, secretary said set to press ahead with plans for Jerusalem, borders, refugees

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry arrive at a joint press conference in Jerusalem, December 5, 2013. (photo credit: Emil Salman/POOL/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry arrive at a joint press conference in Jerusalem, December 5, 2013. (photo credit: Emil Salman/POOL/FLASH90)

Having this week unveiled an American plan for security arrangements between Israel and the Palestinians under a permanent peace deal, Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly also intends to set out American proposals in the near future to resolve the other core issues — Jerusalem, the borders of a Palestinian state, and the Palestinian refugees.

Israel’s Channel 2 news on Friday night reported that Israel, though it was “not satisfied” with the security proposals, had not rejected them. The Palestinian Authority, though also unhappy with the Kerry security proposals, has denied earlier reports that it rejected them.

The secretary was relieved that the response was not furious opposition, and intends to proceed with the “gradual” unveiling of a comprehensive American blueprint for a permanent accord, covering all the key issues of dispute, the TV report said. Launching the current Israeli-Palestinian talks in late July, Kerry expressed confidence that a permanent peace accord ending the conflict could be reached within the following nine months; almost half of that period has now elapsed.

Israeli sources quoted in the report called the security plan “interesting” and “complex” but ultimately “not sufficient.” Nonetheless, they were said to be studying the plan and had not rejected it.

Kerry left Israel Friday after three meetings in two days with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and one session with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. In contrast to previous visits, he was accompanied this time by retired US Gen. John Allen, who detailed the American plan for security arrangements.

Kerry said Friday that “the people who really know what’s going on” in the negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian sides on a permanent accord “aren’t talking about it.” But reports of the security plan’s content leaked out over Thursday and Friday.

Among its key elements, the US security plan reportedly provides for a series of border crossings along the Jordan Valley border between the West Bank and Jordan which would be jointly controlled by Israel and the PA. The entire border itself, however, would remain under full Israeli control, with the IDF joined only by a symbolic Palestinian security presence. These arrangements would hold for many years, but not necessarily permanently, the Channel 2 report said, the implication being that in a future new era of stability and mutual confidence, Israel might transfer more authority to the Palestinians.

The US, under the proposal, would provide an additional security “envelope,” which would utilize drones and other high-tech equipment to provide real-time intelligence on any terrorist threats and other unlawful border activity.

The PA was quoted Thursday as having rejected the plan. Although it subsequently denied this, the PA is firmly opposed to any ongoing Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley or elsewhere in its intended state.

Netanyahu, for his part, reportedly reiterated to Kerry his insistence that Israel’s security must remain entirely in Israel’s hands. Israel has also indicated to the US that an IDF withdrawal from the West Bank, as ostensibly demanded by Abbas, could lead to the ouster of Abbas by Palestinian extremists; Hamas ousted Abbas’s Fatah forces from Gaza within hours during its 2007 coup and has held the Strip ever since.

An earlier version of Kerry’s proposal had apparently suggested the presence of an international force in the Jordan Valley. This was dismissed as absolutely unthinkable by Netanyahu, Channel 2 reported.

Jordan has also reportedly indicated to the US that it strongly supports an ongoing Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley, fearing a destabilizing upsurge in terrorism should Israel withdraw its forces, which could have profoundly problematic implications for Jordan.

Kerry told the Israeli leadership in Jerusalem on Thursday and Friday that 160 people had worked on the security plan. He is to meet Saturday in Washington with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman to discuss it further. Both men are participating in a Saban Forum weekend conference devoted to Israeli-US ties, and focused on the Palestinian conflict and on the strained Jerusalem-Washington relationship over strategies for thwarting iran’s nuclear weapons drive. President Barack Obama and Netanyahu will also address the conference, Netanyahu by satellite feed from Jerusalem.

Heading home from Israel Friday, Kerry said Netanyahu and Abbas were committed to making a success of the peace talks, despite grumblings over a lack of visible progress in almost five months of negotiations.

The secretary dismissed reports that talks were floundering. “I believe we are closer than we have been in years to bringing about the peace and prosperity that all the people in this region yearn for,” he said.

Kerry quoted the late South African leader Nelson Mandela’s remark that “it is always impossible until it is done,” saying that the Middle East needed to take that idea to heart. “The naysayers are wrong to call peace in this region an impossible goal.”

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