An agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority would likely be
restricted in its initial stages to the West Bank, with the hope that Gazans
would see the benefits and bring pressure on their leaders to take part, US
President Barack Obama indicated on Saturday.
With the current nine-month
negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians at about their halfway point,
Obama said – speaking at the Saban Forum in Washington – that he felt a
“framework” could be reached over the “next several months.” He said that while
it may not “address every single detail, [it] gets us to a point where everybody
recognizes that it is better to move forward, than backward.”
moderator Haim Saban, a major contributor to the Democratic Party, asked about
the split between the Palestinians on the West Bank and those in Gaza, Obama
said that if a “pathway to peace” could be created that was “initially
restricted to the West Bank,” it could serve as a model for Palestinians in
If young Gazans see the West Bank flourishing commercially as a
result of peace and the lifting of barriers, “that is something the young people
of Gaza will want, and the pressure that will be placed for residents of Gaza to
experience that same future is something that is going to be overwhelmingly
The president, who gave few concrete details of what was
happening now in the negotiations, did indicate that any accord would
necessitate “some sort of transition period.”
Ultimately, he said, “the
Palestinians have to also recognize that there is going to be a transition
period, where the Israeli people cannot expect a replica of Gaza in the West
Bank. That is unacceptable.”
Obama said that this period will “require
some restraint on the part of the Palestinians,” and a realization that “they
don’t get everything they want on day one.”
That, he said, “creates some
political problems” for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud
Obama said that there were not a lot of secrets and surprises
during this round of negotiations, and that “we know what the outline of a
potential agreement is, and the question then becomes: Are both sides willing to
take the very tough political risks involved if their bottom lines are met?” He
defined the Palestinian bottom line as a “real and meaningful” state, and
Israel’s bottom line as a secure, Jewish state.
He said that much time
has been spent by a US security team, headed by retired Gen. John Allen,
to “understand from an Israeli perspective what is required for the security of
Israel” in a two-state scenario.
“We understand that we can’t dictate to
Israel what it needs for its security, but what we have done is try to
understand it and see through a consultative process if there are ways, through
technology and additional ideas, that we could potentially provide for,” he
Allen, Obama said, “has arrived at the conclusion that it is
possible to create a two-state solution that preserves Israel’s core security
needs. That is his conclusion, but ultimately he is not the decision maker.
Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu and the Israeli military and intelligence
folks have to make that determination.”
Obama said that Israel’s security
“was uppermost on our minds, and that will not change” regardless of who sits in
the Oval Office.
“That should not mean you let up on your vigilance in
terms of wanting to look out for your own country, but it should give you some
comfort though, that you have the most powerful nation on earth as your closest
friend and ally, and that commitment is going to be undiminished,” he
The security ideas that are being discussed include Israeli
security control over the Jordan River for the foreseeable future, with joint
Israeli-Palestinian control over the border crossings.
The plan calls for
the use of drones and other technological devices to provide immediate warnings
of hostile activity along the border and to monitor the demilitarization of a
future Palestinian state.
Obama’s remarks came just a day after US
Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest stab at shuttle diplomacy, meeting
Thursday and Friday three times with Netanyahu in Jerusalem, and once with Abbas
in Ramallah. He is expected to return to the region by the end of the month to
try and keep Israeli-Palestinian talks moving forward.
“I believe we are
closer than we have been in years to bringing about the peace and the prosperity
and the security that all of the people of this region deserve and yearn for,”
Kerry’s optimism, however, was not shared by Foreign Minister
Avigdor Liberman, who said at the Saban Forum on Friday that he was not sure it
was possible to bridge the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians and to reach
even an interim agreement.
The differences are deep, he said, adding that
it is not only about border or security, but also about trust.
trust and credibility, it is mission impossible,” he said.
As an example
of the factors making the task difficult, Liberman said that Abbas “does not
represent the people of Gaza, and I’m not sure he has a majority in Judea and
At the same time, Liberman – who is scheduled to meet Kerry in
Washington on Sunday – said it is important for the dialogue to
“Even if you don’t resolve the conflict, it is very important
to manage the conflict, and to maintain these very, very fragile relations, and
I really appreciate all the efforts of Secretary Kerry to keep this process
alive,” he said.
While saying that he did not think it was possible this
year or the next to achieve a comprehensive solution or breakthrough, “I think
it is crucial to keep our dialogue” and “think about
Liberman warned against creating “a lot of expectations,
because if you create expectations and do not succeed, you have disappointment
and frustration, and after that you have violence.”
Kerry, speaking on
Friday at Ben-Gurion Airport just before heading home, did speak of progress,
however, saying, “we have gone through a very detailed, lengthy, in-depth
analysis of the security challenges of the region, particularly the challenges
to Israel and the creation of a viable, independent Palestinian
Kerry said that this process has taken time, and that Allen
briefed Netanyahu about various security concepts. He said he feels that Allen’s
analysis – supported by the work of some 160 US officials from the Defense
Department, the State Department, the White House and the intelligence community
– could “help both the Palestinians and Israelis make judgments about some of
the choices that are important for arriving at an agreement.” And that, he said,
Kerry said that security was paramount in Netanyahu’s mind
with respect to Israel’s ability to move forward on other issues.
Israel’s security cannot be increased through this agreement, it is very
difficult to make an agreement,” he said. “So we are making certain that we are
addressing each and every one of those questions.”
Kerry, who reiterated
that he was the only one designated to talk about the negotiations, said that
the fact that no information is coming out about the talks, does not mean that
they were not productive.
Neither he, Netanyahu, nor Abbas would be
spending “all this time” if they were not “hammering out important concepts” and
engaging in serious conversations, Kerry said.