While Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett jostle with one another in the Israeli sandbox, US Secretary of State John Kerry continues to exert efforts in formulating a document of understandings that he hopes will yield an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority within the next two weeks.
Kerry is mulling the option of delivering a speech directly to the Israeli public which would be similar to a "state of the union" address. The secretary has instructed officials in the American embassy to begin examining the logistical and practical aspects of a Kerry speech.
The idea of a speech is being examined in concert with Israeli officials, for the Americans have made it clear that they have no intention of "going over the head" of the government in Jerusalem. Instead, the goal of the speech would be to help Netanyahu gain more support from the Israeli public as the secretary puts the finishing touches on the framework agreement that is due to serve as the basis for further negotiations between Israel and the PA.
If Kerry does go forward with the speech, it would be along the lines of remarks he delivered to the Saban Forum this past December. Many in attendance at the event said that the secretary of state's remarks were akin to "an almost religious sermon." Kerry is likely to emphasize to the Israeli public the cost of refusing to move forward in the peace process and the destructive repercussions that would befall Israel in the event that talks with Ramallah collapse.
Meanwhile, Israeli and American officials were hard at work this week poring over the details of the document that is taking shape. The paper, as things stand now, will be titled Terms of References. That means the document will bind both Israel and the Palestinians, similar to a "road map." It is assumed that both sides will offer up their reservations to the terms of the document, but that it will nonetheless become a binding framework which will serve as the foundation for more talks.
The latest piece by Thomas Friedman, the New York Times commentator, did not include any new information. In fact, the principles outlined in the Kerry document have been spoken about often and in public many times. The two sides are now in the last, fine-tuning stages, trying to agree on the wording and language of each clause. Israel and the US have reached agreement on nearly all issues. As things stand now, the Palestinian side has assumed the role of serial rejecters.
Kerry is now trying to create linkage between a Palestinian demand that east Jerusalem be mentioned as the future capital of Palestine and Israel's demand for Palestinian recognition of it as a Jewish state. He is hard at work in trying to lobby Arab governments to apply pressure on PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who has suddenly got a case of cold feet and is hesitating.
This is where the absence of Hosni Mubarak is most felt. It was Mubarak who would intervene on behalf of Washington in moments like these. Right now, there is no responsible adult in Egypt who can avail himself to apply diplomatic pressure on the Palestinian Authority. That is a shame.
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