US framework for peace talks will have elements 'both sides will dislike,' says Netanyahu

PM says at faction meeting, that he has been trying to persuade Kerry that Israel must maintain West Bank settlement blocs.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and PM Binyamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershon/GPO)
US Secretary of State John Kerry and PM Binyamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: Amos Ben Gershon/GPO)
US Secretary of State John Kerry is working on a document spelling out America’s basic principles for a peace agreement that both sides – with reservations – are to agree to follow as a framework for continuing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Israeli officials said Monday.
The comments came as Kerry left the region after five days, and as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu briefed his Likud faction on the progress of the talks.
Kerry is expected to return next week.
Netanyahu told the Likud MKs that there will be elements inside the American declaration of principles that Israel will not like, and there will be elements that the Palestinians will not like.
Government officials said that if this particular track toward extending the negotiations beyond the late April deadline bears fruit, then both Israel and the Palestinians are expected to say that the positions reflected in the document are American positions – not necessarily ones they accept – but that they will continue to negotiate based on the American document.
Among the issues expected to be difficult for Israel to swallow is a declaration that the endgame is a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines, with minor land swaps. And among the bitter pills for the Palestinians is expected to be a formula recognizing Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and making clear that the Palestinian refugees are to be absorbed in the future Palestinian state.
Netanyahu told the MKs he was using his meetings with Kerry to persuade him that Israel must maintain settlement blocs and areas of national and strategic importance, and that he was succeeding in persuading Kerry to accept many of Israel’s positions.
“There is an understanding about Israel’s need to keep settlement blocs and areas of historical significance like Hebron and Beit El,” sources close to Netanyahu quoted him as saying following the closed-door meeting.
Right-wing MKs received an impression from Netanyahu that he had no problem giving up uninhabited land and was ready to give up settlements that are not in blocs or nationally or strategically important.
Following questioning by MKs Tzipi Hotovely and Moshe Feiglin, Netanyahu said he disagreed with them about annexation in the West Bank.
“I know there are some of you who favor annexing land together with the Palestinians, but I don’t want to control 1.5-2 million Palestinians and neither do most Israelis,” he said, according to sources close to him who were in the meeting.
Netanyahu said that neither a binational state nor a situation where the Palestinians do not have full rights were acceptable.
He said a solution was needed, and that the current negotiations were aimed at trying to find that solution.
Regarding security, Netanyahu said that he and the Americans do not want the West Bank to “look like Afghanistan.”
When Hotovely asked Netanyahu about Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s support for swapping not only territory but also populations, including the Wadi Ara area and the Little Triangle, a collection of Arab villages next to the Green Line, the prime minister replied, “That is the foreign minister’s opinion and has been for quite some time.”
Liberman raised this issue during a speech Sunday in the Foreign Ministry. When asked whether this idea has been raised in talks with Kerry, Netanyahu said he saw no benefit in discussing the issue. But a source close to Liberman said it had been raised, and that Kerry was not ruling it out as an option.
Netanyahu has not spoken out publicly about Liberman’s ideas – neither rejecting nor endorsing them.
Liberman, during his speech Sunday, also ruled out Israel’s acceptance of any Palestinian “refugees,” not even a symbolic number, as former prime minister Ehud Olmert was willing to do.
Ma’ariv reported Monday that Kerry was pressing Netanyahu to show some flexibility on this issue, to make it easier for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
A government official said Netanyahu has never indicated any willingness to accept even a symbolic number of Palestinian refugees.
Abbas, meanwhile, was quoted Monday as saying Kerry still has not presented him with a final draft of a framework agreement.
In a letter to Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, Abbas said that Kerry was trying to reach a framework agreement of understandings and not an interim or final agreement.
Abbas’s letter was relayed to Elaraby by Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a senior aide to the PA president.
Abdel Rahim said that Abbas’s letter surveyed the latest developments concerning Kerry’s ongoing mission in the region.
The Palestinians, Abdel Rahim said, were pinning high hopes on Kerry’s efforts to lead to the implementation of previous understandings.
Elaraby told the PA official that US Middle East envoy Martin Indyk was expected to visit Cairo on Tuesday, to brief him on the latest developments.
That visit follows meetings that Kerry himself held with Jordanian and Saudi leaders on Sunday to brief them on the developments.
“The Palestinian-Israeli track does not need a new framework agreement of understandings,” Abdel Rahim said.
“There are old and several understandings such as the Oslo Accords, the Road Map and the Annapolis Conference. We want practical solutions and not additional understandings over which we would have to negotiate for years,” he said.
The senior aide said the Palestinians remain committed to negotiating with Israel until the end of the nine-month timetable set by Kerry, which expires in April. “After that, we will go to the UN organizations [to seek recognition of a Palestinian state] if there are no [Israeli] withdrawals.”
Kerry, before leaving, met with opposition head Isaac Herzog, who said afterward that Kerry seemed more determined than any previous mediator to reach an agreement.
“I expressed my appreciation for the important work he is doing,” Herzog said. “We are at a historic moment of decision making. I don’t think we have any alternative other than to separate from the Palestinians and establish two states.”
Herzog assured Kerry that the Labor Party would support a diplomatic initiative that would move an agreement forward and that, with opposition support, there was a majority in the Knesset for such a deal.