Kerry said set to present framework deal at end of month

At conference in Aqaba, US secretary of state reportedly to put forward ‘vague outline’ of Israeli-Palestinian accord

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)

US Secretary of State John Kerry is reportedly set to present a memorandum of understanding between Israel and the Palestinians at a conference in Jordan at the end of the month, London-based Arabic daily al-Hayat reported on Saturday.

Palestinian sources told the newspaper that the document was just a vague outline with flexible contents, as the two sides are due to discuss the particulars of the agreement as peace talks proceed through April.

According to the report, Kerry is due to present the document at a summit in Aqaba hosted by Jordanian King Abdullah.

Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon on Saturday reiterated the report’s claim to Israel Radio in a Saturday interview. According to Danon, Kerry will return to the region on Monday to hold a joint meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

The deputy defense minister told the radio station that he hopes Netanyahu will oppose a return to the 1967 lines and not agree to any negotiations over Jerusalem, and warned that if Netanyahu makes a left-hand turn “like [Ariel] Sharon did,” he would face stiff opposition from his Likud party.  

A State Department spokesperson said in response to inquiries by The Times of Israel about the al-Hayat report that they had nothing new to announce, and reiterated that Washington was “currently discussing with the parties a framework which would serve as principles to guide the final status negotiations.” 

State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Friday denied there was a working draft of a US framework agreement being passed between Jerusalem and Ramallah, but said Washington was “working with both sides on a framework for negotiations moving forward that addresses all of the core issues.”

The US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, said earlier this month that the Kerry framework proposal would be presented soon. Kerry has made 10 visits to the region this year, and an eleventh trip is expected soon.

Israeli media reports claim the Palestinian leadership has decided to reject Kerry’s proposals for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and instead launch a global diplomatic and legal assault on Israel.

The Palestinian Authority is currently 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, Israel’s Channel 2 news reported Friday night.

Unless Kerry significantly changes the current formulation of his proposals, the report said, the Palestinians will 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.

On Jerusalem, rather than the complete control that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is demanding over all areas of the city captured by Israel in the 1967 war, including the Old City, Kerry is merely offering the Palestinians a capital based in one of the city’s outlying neighborhoods such as Isawiya, Abu Dis (where construction of a Palestinian parliamentary building was begun in 2000), Beit Hanina or Shuafat.

The TV report came a day after the former Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath made plain the Palestinians’ anger with Kerry, by publicly accusing the secretary of endorsing Israel’s demands on two central issues in the peace talks: The recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and a continued Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley. The PA has repeatedly rebuffed these two demands. “The two issues have never been in our agenda: the Jewishness of the state [of Israel] and the Jordan [Valley],” Shaath said.

Palestinian sources told AFP in early January that Abbas rebuffed pressure from Kerry to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. They also said the secretary was proposing a joint Israeli-Palestinian presence to control the West Bank-Jordan border, where Israel has insisted on continued IDF control. Abbas previously sought an international military presence on the border, with no Israeli involvement.

Last month, the Palestinians reportedly rejected a proposal by Kerry for an Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley for the first 10 years after the signing of a peace deal.

Neither Kerry’s security proposals, nor his evolving framework deal for ongoing talks, have been made public, but leaked details indicate Israel and the Palestinians are at odds over almost all key issues — notably including the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugee demands, border demarcations, land-swap arrangements, and security proposals. Current talks are set to end in April; Kerry wants the framework deal inked in the near future, as a basis for extending the talks.

Last week, Abbas hardened his stance on the demand for a “right of return” for Palestinian refugees.

Israel’s government, for its part, recently announced plans to build 1,400 new homes over the pre-1967 lines, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday accused the international community of “hypocrisy” for its opposition to the expansion of existing settlements, which he said did not impede peace efforts.

Netanyahu has accused the Palestinians of being intransigent in the negotiations, while Israel has released 78 long-time Palestinian prisoners, most of them terrorists convicted of murdering Israelis, in the course of the talks, and has agreed to free a further group of 26 such convicts in the coming months.

Earlier this week, Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was quoted accusing Kerry of pursuing an accord with an “inexplicably obsessive” and “messianic” zeal, and describing the secretary’s security proposal as “not worth the paper it is printed on.” Ya’alon did not deny the statements, but issued an apology. Kerry, in turn, said he would not let “one set of comments” deter him from his efforts.

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