US Secretary of State John Kerry is coming back to Israel today after months of
intensive work with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas on finding the mechanism to formally renew
Kerry and his team have invested
hundreds of hours in thinking, planning, prodding, and determining how the
United States of America can get the two parties to do what is in their best
national security interests. Let’s face it, if the negotiations do get renewed,
Netanyahu and Abbas will not be doing a favor for Obama or Kerry or for the
American people, they will be doing it because that is what national leadership
demands from them for their own people.
Kerry is expecting to get
positive answers from Netanyahu and Abbas today, or in the next few days, and
would like to conclude his visit with the announcement of a trilateral meeting
of himself with Netanyahu and Abbas, and the beginning of
It may happen on this trip, but it may take another visit
and more intensive pressure to make it happen.
Abbas has demanded that
prior to entering new negotiations, Israel should implement its obligations and
commitments under the road map – namely freezing settlements.
under public pressure, also demanded that Israel indicate its understanding that
the delineation of borders between the two states will be based on the “green
line,” the pre-June 5, 1967, border, and that Israel release the pre-Oslo
prisoners he claims Olmert agreed to release before changing his
Netanyahu has rejected these preconditions as
Israel indicated that once at the table Abbas would be
welcome to make all his demands and requests as part and parcel of the
negotiations. But if Abbas comes into the room without getting his demands in
advance, how will he face his own public, which agrees with his preconditions?
It appears Kerry has found the formula that apparently enables Abbas to state
that the Palestinians will enter negotiations without preconditions for a
limited time, to assess the degree to which Netanyahu is serious about reaching
an agreement. At the same time, at least according to rumors, Netanyahu has
apparently agreed to release pre-Oslo prisoners during Ramadan, which is a
common practice both in Israel and across the Islamic world, as a means of
creating a more positive atmosphere for the negotiations.
applied pressure on both sides, and it seems to have worked. President Barack
Obama, it appears, gave his full backing to his secretary of state and removed
any doubts regarding the degree of presidential support behind Kerry’s
initiative. Obama let it be known that Kerry is speaking for the president and
on his behalf.
The pressure seems to be working. Without getting Israeli
pre-acceptance of the idea that the 1967 border is the basis for discussion, it
seems Kerry may have taken it upon himself to assure the Palestinians that US
supports this position.
It is clear that the two leaders are actually
afraid to enter the process. Negotiating is not the problem; it has never been
the problem. The difficulty is making decisions.
That is what deters them
from beginning. Sharing Jerusalem as an open city with two sovereignties in its
borders, refugee return to the Palestinian state and not to Israel, freezing the
state quo on the Temple Mount whereby the Muslims control the mosques on top and
Israel controls the Western Wall, security measures including a demilitarized
Palestinian state, joint forces on the Jordan river, continued cooperation on
fighting terror, removing settlements, allowing Jews to live in the Palestinian
state, removing incitement and education to hate, changing textbooks – these are
just a few of the tough decisions they will have to make to reach an agreement
which formally ends the conflict.
Both leaders are quite aware of the
opposition from within their own respective camps. Netanyahu has to face not
only his coalition partners, but characters within his own Likud party – perhaps
even a majority of Likud MKs will be against any real concessions to the
Palestinians. Abbas, too, has his own opposition at home within Fatah, without
even considering how Hamas will try to derail any agreement.
if the leaders were able to bring home a package deal on all of the issues,
ending the conflict, they will receive around 65 percent support among their
publics for that agreement. Even if the Israeli government coalition collapsed
instantly, I have counted 70 votes in the Knesset for an agreement. I have even
counted 61 Jewish votes in the Knesset for an agreement.
It takes vision,
courage and a sense of rising to the historical moment which faces them to
exploit the opportunity that Kerry has placed at the doorway of the two leaders.
If they go the distance, make the hard decisions, stick to the negotiations,
refuse to accept “no” for an answer, continue to propose bridging proposals
rather than putting on the table “take it or leave it” notions, success is
Abbas, the last Palestinian leader who was among the founding
fathers of the Palestinian national movement, and Netanyahu, the leader of the
right wing in Israel, are the two best possible leaders to bring peace to their
people. If they are both committed to that goal, they can ensure that the
outcome will be a comprehensive, full peace and end-of-conflict agreement. Both
leaders have so much more to gain from their success than from their failure.
History beacons, the future is calling.
The author is co-chairman of
IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for
The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel
for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book, Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back
Channel, has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew.