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Photo by: Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv
Kerry's 'framework' expected to be 'outline' of future agreement
By HERB KEINON AND KHALED ABU TOAMEH
02/01/2014
Top US diplomat returning to region for 10th time; Jerusalem not expected to announce settlement construction plans during Kerry's trip; Abbas rejects idea of reaching interim agreement with Israel, insists on final deal.
 
US Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to meet separately with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas soon after his arrival Thursday afternoon to discuss his ideas for a framework agreement that would serve as an outline for a final agreement.

A senior State Department official said Kerry was not expecting any breakthrough during this trip, his 10th to the region since taking office in February. Rather, he said, Kerry was pushing for the sides to agree on guidelines for what the final deal would look like. Then the job would be to fill in the details.

Kerry is expected to remain in the region through the weekend, though no date has been given for his departure.

During this time Israel is unlikely to announce plans to build some 1,400 housing units beyond the Green Line, 600 in Jerusalem and the rest in the settlement blocs.

Last week, in the run-up to Tuesday morning’s release of 26 convicted Palestinian terrorists, the government announced it would couple the prisoner release with announcements of further construction, just as it did following the first two prisoner releases in August and October.

No date, however, was given for the expected announcement, which has already drawn a great deal of international criticism.

Israeli-US relations were badly strained in 2010 when Israel announced preliminary plans to build homes in Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.

Government officials have described the idea of a “framework agreement,” which Kerry will push forward, as a way to ensure that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – which began in late July, and were to last for nine months – could continue beyond their late April deadline.

However, US officials were still not ruling out meeting the late April deadline for a full agreement.

“It is a two-stage process in our minds, agreement on a framework for negotiations and then a permanent-status agreement or a peace treaty” by April, the State Department official said.

“We have established very well where the gaps are, but also generated some ideas that could help to serve as ways of bridging those gaps,” the official added. “The secretary’s trip this time is to start to test those ideas with the two leaders.”

The official said Kerry “has a real sense of urgency, a real sense of need to strike while the iron is hot. We consider the iron to be hot. We’re going to work assiduously to try to reach this framework agreement as soon as possible.”

The idea of a framework agreement was first broached by US President Barack Obama at the Saban Conference in Washington in early December. “It is possible over the next several months to arrive at a framework that does not address every single detail, but gets us to a point where everybody recognizes [that it is] better to move forward, than move backwards,” he said.

The guidelines are widely expected to call for the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 lines, with mutually agreed upon land swaps, and for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.

Abbas has said on numerous occasions that he has no intention of recognizing Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.

The guidelines are expected to contain formulas for the other core issues as well, such as refugees and Jerusalem.

But even as Kerry prepares to resume his efforts, a PLO official announced Wednesday that the Palestinians would reject any framework accord that is presented by the Americans.

“Kerry will try to market a mysterious and nonconstructive framework agreement to the Palestinian Authority during his new tour,” said PLO Executive Committee member Tayseer Khaled.

Khaled accused the US of turning a blind eye to Israel’s practices on the ground in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

He said that Israel’s measures undermined the peace process and prospects of establishing a sovereign Palestinian state.

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation would not have been able to recently approve a bill supporting the application of Israeli law to settlements in the Jordan Valley had it not felt that it had the backing of Kerry, Khaled said.

That bill, however, has little chance of making its way to the Knesset any time soon, since it is very unlikely Netanyahu will bring it to the cabinet for a vote.

The PLO official called on the PA leadership to inform Kerry of its opposition to any framework or interim agreement with Israel. He also called on the PA leadership to stop counting on American sponsorship of the peace talks and demand international intervention, as was the case with Iran and Syria.

Abbas, meanwhile, reiterated his threat to seek UN recognition of a Palestinian state should Israel pursue construction in the settlements.

Addressing Palestinians on the 49th anniversary of the founding of his Fatah faction, Abbas denounced settlements as a “cancer.”

He said that the PA maintained the right to use its status as a non-member observer in the UN to take diplomatic, political and legal action to halt settlement construction.

Abbas rejected the idea of reaching an interim agreement with Israel, saying he insists on a final peace deal. “We are negotiating to reach a solution that would immediately lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital, on all the lands that were occupied in 1967,” he said. “We also seek a just solution to the case of the refugees on the basis of UN Resolution 194, and the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.”

Meanwhile, the United States has increased its financial aid to the PA, but linked this aid to progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported on Wednesday.

The American aid will go from $426 million in 2013 to $440m. in 2014, said Maen Rashid Areikat, head of the PLO delegation in Washington.

Despite the increase, the 2014 US aid is significantly lower than in previous years – In 2011, the US provided the PA $545m. in aid money, and $495m. in 2012.

The United States Agency for International Development provides funding for economic projects, security, judiciary needs and promotion of government transparency.

Ahead of the resumption of peace talks, Kerry introduced a $4 billion economic plan to revitalize the Palestinian economy.

According to Kerry, the plan will focus on developing the Palestinian private economy, a key ingredient for economic independence.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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