WASHINGTON – According to his aides, US Secretary of State John Kerry had to be
restrained from flying to Jerusalem over the Christmas holiday to continue
negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Kerry wants a framework
agreement between the parties sooner rather than later – preferably before
April, when a commitment made by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President
Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate in earnest will expire.
“He has a real sense
of urgency, a real sense of need to strike while the iron is hot,” one senior US
administration official told reporters on New Year’s Eve. “We consider the iron
to be hot.”
One thing is clear to all parties involved in the talks: The
moment is certainly heated, be it by hot air or heightened tensions, by a fear
of consequential failure or of the knowledge that, halfway through the
nine-month negotiations timeframe, the parties are no closer to an agreement
than they were last summer.
Announcing the peace talks from the State
Department last July, Kerry warned that journalists reporting on the
negotiations would publish largely inaccurate stories.
involved would be discussing the talks in public, he asserted.
true for several months, but it is no longer the case: After 20 official rounds
of diplomacy, Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator for the Palestinians, has
repeatedly expressed doubts
in public that the talks will succeed – certainly if
the measure of success is a peace treaty between the Jewish State of Israel and
an official State of Palestine.
That’s why senior US officials are now
explaining the administration’s position to journalists. For months, officials
from the White House and State Department insisted that they were not working
toward an interim agreement – that they wanted a final-status accord addressing
all outstanding issues, and nothing less. But the framework now being discussed
allows the US to declare a victory with the conflict unresolved; it provides the
parties with a way out of the nine-month timeframe, set in the first place to
apply the pressure required on leadership to make tough political
“This is not an effort to achieve an interim
agreement. It is an effort to provide agreed guidelines for a permanent-status agreement – that is to say, a full and final peace treaty between the
parties,” the senior administration official added. “Once they have a shared
vision of what that will look like, then it will become easier to finalize the
details, and there will be a lot of details in the actual permanent- status
Just because nine months will likely pass without a
final-status agreement, does not mean a framework agreement will be fruitless;
it may extend the deadline, but may also bind Netanyahu and Abbas on a
trajectory toward peace.
And yet the risks are real in moving the goal
posts, and in allowing the negotiations to become a two-step process.
administration argued for months that privacy was required during negotiations
so that Netanyahu and Abbas could have generous time and space to weigh
But once a framework agreement is announced, that
will no longer apply; the space between that step and a final peace treaty will
likely be dominated by critics of the two-state solution, now armed with
specific policies built into the framework they will be keen to
The administration hopes that, similar to the first-step deal
forged in Geneva over Iran’s nuclear program, a framework that offers real
prospects for peace will tempt the skeptics and the hopefuls.
to earn themselves the benefit of the doubt. And perhaps with that, they will
buy the time required to forge a final deal, with statehood and recognition and
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