Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will likely require more time than previously anticipated, US officials acknowledged to The Jerusalem Post on Monday, as the nine-month deadline for peace talks set last July by US Secretary of State John Kerry is on the verge of expiring in two months.
Kerry and his team have suggested publishing a framework for negotiations going forward that the parties would collectively roll out before the April 29 deadline. But the Americans now view the hard date they originally set to be “artificial” and suggest that even the framework might need more time, given some important gaps that still remain.
One of these gaps is Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland, a precondition for a two-state solution set by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Abbas told The New York Times over the weekend that he would refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“This is out of the question,” he said, when asked about the issue.
Netanyahu took note of this response during a Likud Beytenu faction meeting in the Knesset on Monday, saying Abbas’s negative response came even though “he knows there will not be an agreement without recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.”
The prime minister dismissed as “absurd” the notion that Israel would sign an agreement recognizing a nation-state for the Palestinian people without mutual recognition by the Palestinians of Israel as the nationstate of the Jews.
“Now let’s see if those same elements in the international community, which until now have placed pressure only on Israel, will make clear to the Palestinians what exactly the ramifications will be for the them if there will not be an agreement,” he said. “Without the Palestinians understanding that they will pay a price for a lack of continuation of the talks, they will prefer not to continue the talks.”
Netanyahu did not discuss another element of the Times interview with Abbas, namely the Palestinian leader’s suggestion that an American-led NATO force patrol the future Palestinian state indefinitely, and that the IDF withdraw after a five-year transition period. Abbas said the NATO force could be stationed throughout the future state, both on its eastern and western borders, at border crossings, and in Jerusalem.
One government official did address the issue, saying that over the past 20 years Israel has had only negative experiences with international forces.
These include a UNIFIL force in Lebanon that was expanded after the Second Lebanon War yet has not prevented massive rearming by Hezbollah, as well as the UN forces in the Golan Heights and the EU force at the Gaza border crossings, which fold up as soon as things get dangerous.
The official said Israel had never asked, and never would ask, American troops to defend it. He also pointed out that even US troops withdrew from Lebanon in the 1980s following attacks there. Moreover, he said, an American-led force in the region would be a target for various anti-American and jihadist elements.
The official also rejected the idea that there would need to be a fixed deadline for an IDF withdrawal, saying this would have to depend on “performance” and the situation on the ground.
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett also addressed the NATO issue during a meeting of his own faction in the Knesset. He said Israel’s history showed that when things are calm, the international forces remain in place, but “the moment they are needed they run away.” Bennett added that he preferred “oldstyle security; only the IDF will guard our kids.”
Netanyahu, in discussing possible scenarios if the talks with the Palestinians break down, also endeavored to put an end to the tension with Kerry over his recent “talk of boycotts.” He told the Likud Beytenu MKs – a number of whom had lashed out at Kerry for these comments – that the secretary of state “once again stated he opposes boycotts” against Israel.
“This is an important clarification,” Netanyahu said. “It maintains the traditional American policy against the Arab boycott of Israel, in which the US both opposed and acted against such boycotts.
We trust the United States will continue to actively oppose any boycotts against Israel.”
The prime minister said that while there might be periods of misunderstandings and disagreements between Israel and the US, “the best way to clarify misunderstandings or express differences of opinion is by substantively discussing the issues, not engaging in personal attacks.”
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday that the nine-month timeframe for Israeli-Palestinian talks remained unchanged despite the fact that a framework agreement had not yet been formed.
“That’s certainly our hope,” Psaki said on whether the parties would achieve a framework within the next two months. “It’s only February 4 now, so we have a bit of time between now and the end of April.”
Hamas, meanwhile, announced on Monday that it would never accept the two-state solution or give up “one inch of the land of Palestine.”
The Islamist movement’s announcement came in response to recent statements attributed to Abbas to the effect that Hamas had “authorized” him to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines. The group said it never gave Abbas or anyone else a mandate to agree to a two-state solution.
Hamas said that in 2006 all Palestinian factions had agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines and the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes inside Israel “without recognizing the Zionist entity or its legitimacy on the land of Palestine.”
On Monday it added that “resistance in all shapes, first and foremost armed struggle, will remain the only effective way to achieve the goals of the Palestinian people and liberate their land.”
Hamas also reiterated its call to Abbas to immediately halt the negotiations with Israel, as well as security coordination with the IDF in the West Bank. It also urged Abbas to release its prisoners from PA jails in the West Bank.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.
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