Elliott Abrams

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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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The Kerry Negotiations

by Elliott Abrams
December 23, 2013


Secretary of State Kerry continues his “peace process” efforts at hammering out a comprehensive deal, or at least a framework deal, between Israelis and Palestinians.

Two recent articles are reminders that he is unlikely to succeed. In the first,

The Arab League says it rejects a continued Israeli troop presence on the eastern border of a future state of Palestine, a proposal Palestinians say was floated by the U.S. earlier this month. Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said Saturday no peace deal would work with Israeli presence in a Palestinian state.

Why is this critical? Because Palestinian president Abbas is hiding behind the Arab League, as the second article shows:

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas informed the Arab League about the upcoming proposal, saying it would contain US suggestions regarding the borders of the future Palestinian state, Sbeih said. Abbas told the League that “once he receives the American proposal he will not respond but will present it to Arab nations to make a joint decision.”

In other words, Abbas won’t anger Kerry by saying “no.” He will have the Arab League say no, and then he can tell Kerry “my hands are tied.” That second article, from the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, also sets out Abbas’s views:

– Abbas would accept a Palestinian state with the entirety of East Jerusalem as its capital, with limited land swaps as long as the lands being traded were of equal value.

– He would accept an incremental withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian land, allowing them up to three years to leave.

– He would reject the idea of any permanent Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, but would welcome an international peacekeeping presence.

– He would refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

– He would reject any interim agreement, calling instead for a final solution.

– He would reject any proposal that required Palestine to be an unarmed state, but said he would not get involved in an “arms race.”

Perhaps those are negotiating positions, meant to abandoned as soon as real talks begin, but I doubt it–and that is why a comprehensive deal between Israel and the PLO is not in the cards. For example when Abbas talks of “the entirety of east Jerusalem” he includes areas that Israel will not give up–and perhaps he even means the Western Wall and Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, which were after all part of Jordanian-ruled Jerusalem until 1967. If he rejects an interim agreement, he is rejecting the only form of agreement that’s realistic today. And as to Palestinian arms, it has been agreed for many years that a Palestinian state would have to be “demilitarized.” It isn’t clear what that means, nor what he means by rejecting “unarmed.” It has long been understood that that state would have police forces and some equivalent to a national gendarmerie, but would not have an air force or an army with heavy weaponry–and would not have military alliances with other states that could threaten Israel.

The only good news here is Abbas’s statement that while Israel could not have a “permanent” military presence in the Jordan Valley, he appears to understand that withdrawal will not be immediate.  Abbas suggests three years; Secretary Kerry has apparently suggested 10 or 15. Of greater interest are the news stories reporting that it was not Israel but Jordan that convinced Kerry that the IDF must stay that long to protect the security of Israel, Jordan, and the new state of Palestine. It must have been a wake-up call for Kerry to hear that line not in Jerusalem, but in Amman.

Kerry is apparently seeking a sort of “framework agreement,” meaning that he understands a comprehensive agreement is currently impossible but the Palestinians won’t accept an interim agreement. In my view a framework agreement is a bad choice. Here’s why: in a final agreement both sides make extremely difficult concessions and compromises but get a lot for it. The Palestinians in theory get their sovereign state, and the Israelis get peace with all the Arab states and an end of the conflict and all claims against them. In a framework agreement, the concessions and compromises are announced so the political cost is very high–but neither side gets anything for it. They pay the price and get no reward for doing so. Why would any political leader go for that? It has been suggested that if Kerry outlines a framework agreement and the sides both reject it (i.e., say they cannot accept all of it), the EU will introduce the text as a UN resolution. That’s plausible, but where does it get anyone? Not one step closer to peace.


Post a Comment 14 Comments

  • Posted by Marc

    Abbas’ positions do not seem conductive to peace, looking for the Arab League to give him cover without pressure coming from the Arab League to be flexible is simply a way of saying no without saying it. Eventually a Palestine will exist on both banks of the River Jordan and how much of Judea and Samaria Israel intends to give up really depends on what is militarily sound. Abbas offers nothing towards a long term solution so he is so far not a person who can make peace.

  • Posted by ah

    The conditions sound completely fair to me Marc. Anything less and Palestine is simply a shell of a state. Israel cannot actually expect Abbas to accept anything less, which has been its position from the beginning – which is very obviously an attempt to delay and destroy any peace process while Israel continues to occupy land that is not legally theirs.

    I would argue the exact opposite of your position, that Israel’s positions are conducive to peace, and that is because Israel has no desire to make peace.

  • Posted by A. Stanton

    “He would refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.”

    If Israel isn’t a Jewish State, it is nothing.

  • Posted by Steve Apfel

    Ah, If the land that Israel occupies is not legally theirs, will you disclose who it does belongs to, legally.

  • Posted by Straightshooter

    Abbas continues to stake-out so-called “moderate” positions in his negotiating strategy that he knows are unacceptable to Israel and will never be agreed to, since his only concern is the maintenance of the status quo, which he thinks will ensure his continued survival. This cynical, self-serving and two-faced strategy (he regularly says one thing in English and the opposite in Arabic) will ultimately lead to his downfall.

    Regardless of who the Prime Minister has been over the years, Israel has firmly stated its non-negotiable position concerning recognition as a Jewish state by the Palestinians, security along its borders, no right of return for Palestinians and their descendants who fled Israel in 1948 and demilitarization of a future Palestinian state. These are unalterable pre-conditions to an eventual settlement that the Palestinians (and the Americans) must accept if they ever want to reach agreement.

    That Abbas dismisses these pre-conditions indicates his lack of seriousness and unsuitability as a negotiating partner. Until the Palestinian leadership unequivocably and consistently states in both English and Arabic, for external and internal audiences, both publicly and privately, that it accepts and supports these basic Israeli needs, there is no point to negotiation, nor any possibility of reaching an eventual settlement between the two parties.

    How difficult is this to understand, and how long will it take for a Palestinian ruler to emerge who is capable of leading his people to a definitive settlement based on reality rather than his own self-interest and that of the corrupt Palestinian leadership?

  • Posted by ah

    @a. Stanton – Israel is free to recognize itself however it wants. However, the condition that Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish State” is a newly conceived condition of the last 15 years created with the express knowledge that the Palestinians cannot recognize it as so, because doing so a) discriminates against Israeli Arabs, and b)accepts that Israel’s near-ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 and subsequent wars was legal.

    If, as you say, Israel is nothing without being recognized by a puppet Abbas government as a “Jewish state”, then Israel is nothing but an illusion built on sand, as whether or not Abbas recognizes this is irrelevant.

    @Steve Apfel, the land Israel is on is legally theirs up until it hits the 1967 Green Line, at which point it is occupying land that is legally recognized by the United Nations and pretty much every other country in the world (including the United States), as Palestinian land.

    @Straightshooter, you seem to be confusing things here. I would take your statement, “Abbas continues to stake-out so-called “moderate” positions in his negotiating strategy that he knows are unacceptable to Israel and will never be agreed to”, replace “Abbas” with “Netanyahu” and “Israel” with “Palestine” and you have a more intelligible and accurate statement.

  • Posted by Jack

    International law recognize all of the Land of Israel, on both sides of the Jordan, as the Jewish National Home in 1922 at the League of Nations.
    Israel cannot occupy its own land, its historical homeland and the land that the international community recognized as the Jewish National Home.

  • Posted by Jack

    @ ah
    The Green Line was only an armistice line drawn up in 1949 usually where the armies had stopped fighting. It was not and is not a recognized international border. Judea and Samaria are parts of ancient Israel and the Jewish National Home recognized by the League of Nations

  • Posted by ah

    Jack, please review your history and international law. The League of Nations did not recognize both sides of Jordan as Israeli land, nor did the UN in the 1948 partition plan. The Jewish National Home was recognition of Jewish ties to the land, but not a carte blanche to establish a state on the land.

    Secondly, the Green Line IS an internationally recognized international border recognized by modern nation states and the UN, not by a defunct League of Nations (which, in case you are unclear, was basically replaced by the UN).

    Regarding Judea and Samaria as “parts of ancient Israel”, who cares, that was over 2000 years ago. Palestine was also part of the historic Ottoman Empire, should we thus give it to the Turks?

  • Posted by Daniel

    Ah, what is the legal basis to consider the West Bank as “Palestinian land”?

    Is it within the power of the UN to determine that a particular territory belongs to a particular group, even if that group neither controls the territory or in the past ever held title to the territory?

    Under the Oslo accords most of the West Bank is under Israeli control.

  • Posted by Doron

    How can there be peace when Abbas demands the (spurious) “right of return”? Abbas demands that Arab refugees, and all their descendants, be resettled in pre-1967 Israel, and not in the West Bank.

    This makes a mockery of a two-state solution. It denies the rights of the similar number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. It is hypocritical as the Arab world started the wars that led to BOTH refugee issues. And it runs contrary to the way every other population exchange has been settled worldwide.

    If this is not addressed in Kerry’s plan, then Abbas et all will use it as a pretext for further conflict. Indeed, Palestinian leaders have never entered any process that involves a final resolution of the conflict. They are far more obsessed with destroying Israel, than building a (second) Palestinian state.

  • Posted by Broom

    @ah You’re totally incorrect in your facts. The Green Line is specifically not a border, as meticulously spelled out in UN Res. 242. The “West Bank” and all of the current Jordanian territory was specifically given under international law to Israel for settlement and as the “nation state of the Jewish people,” not only by the League of Nations but also by all the major world powers (the international community) in the San Remo Conference of 1922. Those laws remain the ONLY current international law regarding the rightful ownership of the West Bank. The UN Partition Plan of 1948 is irrelevant since the Arabs explicitly rejected it at the time. Please review your history before posting incorrect and misguided opinions.

  • Posted by ah

    My god, it’s like talking to a group of cows. @Broom UN Res 242 specifically says “(i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;” Other resolutions are built on this (1515 for example)

    Somehow you ignore over 90 years of history and international law, (or pretend it isn’t relevant because a party rejected it) and misinterpret an irrelevant conference from 1922, as well as all subsequent and relevant UN Resolutions

  • Posted by Broom

    Dear ah,

    It’s only like talking to group of cows if the cows are more intelligent than you. The wording of the UN Res 242 was SPECIFICALLY worded that way to avoid requiring Israel from withdrawing from ALL the territory. That was confirmed by the authors of the resolution themselves. You are the one who is ignoring or misunderstanding history and international law. Now get back out to pasture, Ol’ Bessy.

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