Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Kerry, Jerusalem, and the Palestinian Concessions

by Elliott Abrams
June 27, 2013


Secretary of State Kerry is about to visit Jerusalem again, seeking to get negotiations between Israel and the PLO restarted. News reports make it clear that the Palestinians are seeking various concessions as the price of returning to the negotiating table, including some prisoner releases (of prisoners convicted of violent crimes) and a partial freeze of construction in the settlements. The United States appears to be pushing in the same direction, asking Israel to take these steps so that talks can begin.

Meanwhile, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published a story quoting a “senior cabinet minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party” about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s intentions. According to this source, Netanyahu

would be willing to withdraw from most of the West Bank and evacuate numerous settlements as part of an agreement with the Palestinians, as long as his security demands were satisfied….”Netanyahu understands that for a peace agreement, it will be necessary to withdraw from more than 90 percent of the West Bank….” The minister said the issue of security arrangements is Netanyahu’s main concern, and this will be his main demand in the negotiations. If his security demands are met, he is prepared to make significant territorial concessions, the minister added…Netanyahu wants the future Palestinian state to be demilitarized, and he also wants the Israel Defense Forces to be able to maintain a long-term presence along the Jordan River, even if Israel cedes sovereignty there….

The Likud minister’s statements echo those made last week by the heads of Netanyahu’s two biggest coalition partners, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) and Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid). In separate interviews with the Washington Post, both said Netanyahu seriously wants to advance the peace process. Most settler leaders think this as well.

The story also notes that

The senior minister said that Netanyahu very much wants to resume talks with the Palestinians, but the premier isn’t convinced that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is equally eager. “He’s not certain there’s a partner,” the minister said.

I wonder what Secretary Kerry thinks. After all, the Palestinians should be jumping at the chance for serious negotiations, not creating obstacles for their resumption–yet PLO and Palestinian Authority head Abbas does not appear anxious for talks to start. He seems to be satisfied with the status quo, and concerned above all with Palestinian internal politics–right now, with appointing a new prime minister. After former prime minister Fayyad was forced out, the next appointee resigned after only 18 days in office and the power struggle continues.

But it is also striking that as has almost always been the case in the so-called “peace process,” all the concessions are being sought on the Israeli side. The United States has not, for example, demanded an end to Palestinian glorification of terrorism or incitement against Israel in official media as the price for starting new negotiations. Abbas continues to repeat the lie that Israel is endangering or seeking to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque; Palestinian official media continue to celebrate prisoners whose committed vicious acts of violence and terror; terrorists who prepared the bombing of civilian sites are honored by PA officials. Yet it is Israel’s commitment to peace that is doubted and from whom concessions are sought, as if the Palestinians are doing Israel and the United States a great favor by entering into negotiations that are the only route to their stated goal of an independent state.

Secretary Kerry has said he seeks progress by September. Progress is more likely if he tells the PA and PLO officials that they must do more than complain and criticize and condemn Israel. He should tell them that he will judge their own commitment by their conduct this summer, and that “incitement”– the catch-all phrase that is used in diplomatic circles to include anti-Semitic attacks, lies about Israeli behavior, and glorification of violence and terror–must cease. That is the least the Palestinians can do, yet they do not appear willing to do it–and we do not appear willing to insist on it.

Post a Comment 11 Comments

  • Posted by Sandra Lloyd

    The concessions are always on the Israeli side. Abbas is having internal troubles because just like in the two-state matter, he wants what he wants and only does business with those who give him what he wants. Nothing new under the sun! Kerry, too, expects Israel to make all of the concessions. Same news, different day. A few different players. The story could write itself by now.

  • Posted by dubi yarden

    Netanyahu should say that he is willing to have negotiations based on the ’67 borders with swaps – the borders as of June 12, of course.

  • Posted by bb

    As said by Mr Liberman, Its a scene.
    Abbas want just to wait until september to go to UN, and do his show of Hate.
    If US, mainly Obama wants, they could block easily. But now, Obama want to Israel be Vanish and applause Muslim Brotherhood.
    The Congress must act now, not wait tho the Abbas show, with the help of Kerry.

    About the quartet – the guarantitators,
    1- UN ban ki moon, must bring Abbas and Netaniahu together, and avoid any unilateral movemneto of palestine mainly at UNESCO and reavalute UNRWA.
    2-Russia must act like a guarantidor, As they have graet influence in Iran and Syria, damanding Iran stop its military program of nuke and balistic missils

    Lets start with: Israel must demand full membership in NATO, with its nuclear umbrela , the return of every eu soldier at gaza border , promised by UE
    At economic path Israel must demand UE its full membership, with UE waiving de difference between 60% demanded and the 73% Israel external debt.
    Just for a start and gestures of good will from europeu and USA.

  • Posted by Abu Nudnik

    Please put a stake through the heart of the war process called, laughingly, the “peace process.”

    Every concession ever made was made by Israel without exception.

    The Peel Commission offered a two state solution in 1937. Rejected by the Arabs. The UN Partition Plan, 1947: rejected.

    The ONLY thing Palestinians want is the annihilation of Israel, period. Until you know that, you know nothing.

    The Palestinians are waiting for the Iranian nukes. They’re always waiting for someone else. That’s why they do suicide bombings. It’s their way of ridding themselves of their most dangerously mentally ill psychopaths while convincing themselves at the same time they’re not craven cowards.

  • Posted by Helmut Suttor

    look at the map and you will see the palestinian concessions

  • Posted by Julie

    In his article, Mr. Abram mentions the “concessions” requested by the Palestinians – a release of prisoners and a partial settlement freeze – and moves quickly to delegitimize these “concessions” in the eye of the reader without giving them any consideration.

    To start, he asserts that the prisoner release will be those convicted of violent crimes, oversimplifying and leading the reader to think that it is irrational to release Palestinian prisoners – that it is dangerous. Yet, in contrast the Times of Israel reported that Shin Bet, the Ministry of Justice, and the Prison Authority are reviewing “the release of prisoners, all of whom were arrested before the signing of the 1993 Oslo accords and deemed not to pose a security risk.” Mr. Abram, what do you know that the Times of Israel doesn’t? Do you have a list of these prisoners? Can you tell us what their crimes were?

    It would be nice if you could have treated a complex issue with a little more finesse, instead of just making assumptions that delegitimize Palestinians’ call for release of prisoners. At the least, perhaps a mention of why Palestinians consider prisoner release an important issue would be warranted: the fact that the majority of detainees have been arrested under a blanket definition of security that treats non-violent resistors – political activists – young men the same as terrorists.

    That issue is small compared to the glaring lack of explanation when Mr. Abram brushes off the PA’s call for a “partial settlement freeze.” Israel’s continued construction of settlements is the largest present barrier to peace, and a slap in the face of any party truly interested in peace. The settlements are illegal under international law and have been condemned by the international community, the US included. Construction of settlements amounts to a “creeping annexation” of Palestinian territories. This Wednesday, Israel approved the construction of a 69-unit settlement in East Jerusalem. How can Israel possibly be serious about peace when they keep annexing Palestinian land – actions that not only insult and infuriate Palestinians but also contradict the goal of the peace process of two independent states.

    Mr. Abrams begins his article on the premise that these “concessions” are baseless and irrational; a premise that is utterly detached from reality. How can Abbas sit at a negotiation table and discuss big picture ideas of the peace process, seeking to salvage a Palestinian state, when the Israel government continues to build settlements on the ground that are putting holes in it. That would be irrational. Israel’s actions, in violation of international law, make negotiations into a shame.

    Nonetheless, Mr. Abrams is quick to assume that Israel is the true partner in peace, eager for negotiations and to solve the conflict. He belittles the daily indignity suffered by Palestinians, who see the structures of occupation – settlements, checkpoints, soldiers – and feel the lack of peace – arrests, demolitions, land confiscations. In his article, it doesn’t even merit a mention. Instead Palestinians are just irrationally angry and prone to incitement.

    As Mr. Abram proceeds to ignore Israel’s faults, he also dismisses Abbas and the Arab world – as not a “partner for peace.” Yet where is the mention of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, in which all 22 Arab League Members agreed upon acceptance of Israel, end to the conflict, and normalization of relations in exchange for a Palestinian state free of occupation along the ’67 lines. This Arab Peace Initiative was also endorsed by all 57 states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Why was that Arab Peace Initiative ignored? Since 2002, its been approved 4 times in the Arab League. What is this perceived Arab “inability” to accept Israel based on? Mr. Abrams misleads the reader with loud lamenting of a tired misconception – starkly in contrast to the facts.

    I know this is an opinion piece… just your “take” on US foreign policy and the Middle East… but really it left me angry. The bias is astounding – clouding your reason and coloring your arguments. Its sad to think that so many intelligent people look through such at narrow lense at this particular issue. Its painful enough to read that it compelled me to comment at length on my first CFR article.

  • Posted by steven L

    If the PA agrees (which I doubt) Hamas will not. Then the mistake would be for BB to go ahead with NOTHING!

  • Posted by Marjorie

    What can be done (action step) by a US citizen to support Netanyahu and to send this point of view to John Kerry?

  • Posted by Elliott Abrams

    Thanks for the inquiry. The best suggestion I have is to call or write to your congressman and senators. Letters and calls have more weight than you sometimes think.

  • Posted by Ellie

    Hi! I know this is sort of off-topic however I needed to ask.

    Does operating a well-established blog like yours require a lot of work?
    I’m completely new to running a blog but I do write in my diary daily. I’d like to start
    a blog so I can share my experience and views online.
    Please let me know if you have any kind of recommendations or tips for brand
    new aspiring blog owners. Thankyou!

  • Posted by Elliott Abrams

    Thanks for the inquiry. Because this blog is on the Council on Foreign Relations web site, Council staff do all the work of maintaining, updating, and the like. I cannot say how difficult or easy it would be to do this on your own.

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