Kerry’s Progress so Far

Pieria 7/8/13

After John Kerry was appointed Secretary of State, he made the Middle East Peace Process his personal mission. Post the President’s visit, John Kerry has visited Israel and Palestine 5 times trying to get the parties back to the negotiating table. Below is a short review of what Kerry has achieved and where the sticking points have been in trying to get the negotiations back on track*.

It was clear from the start that Kerry wanted to use Jordan as an additional mediator in the eventual negotiations and use the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative as the regional support for the talks themselves. In this way he could avoid the mistakes of the 2000 Camp David accords. Starting off on his first trip he listened to the demands of each side and quickly got a ‘negotiation’ deposit from each. Israel would release the tax revenues to the PA and in return the PA would not go to the ICC or the UN. Abbas gave Kerry a three month guarantee on this (the time running out somewhere in mid-June.) In addition he negotiated with the Arab League to accept small border swaps to the API’s language.

Over the next few visits Kerry clarified the various demands of each party and split the negotiations into three tracks. The political he took full control over. Economically he has put together a $4 billion incentive package to help build Palestine through the private sector and has asked Tony Blair to lead. On the security track he has appointed General Allen to work with the Israelis on their concerns with the hope of answering many of them and, ultimately, taking them off the negotiation table.

So far the leaks seem to indicate that General Allen is getting a cold shoulder from the Israelis who are distrustful of international peace keeping forces. Meanwhile, at the World Economic Forum in Jordan Kerry revealed that there was an economic track in place but has not revealed any additional information apart from the $4 billion price tag.

On the political track Netanyahu has maintained that he is willing to negotiate without any pre-conditions, though he has indicated that the conflict is around the Palestinians accepting Israel as a Jewish State. Abbas has laid out three conditions to rejoin the talks:

  1. A settlement freeze
  2. Release of the Pre-Oslo Prisoners (approx. 120)
  3. Netanyahu to accept that the 67 borders form the starting point for the discussion (or for Netanyahu to present a map)

On Kerry’s last visit to the region (end of June) he spent three days trying to hammer out a compromise position from each party on these issues in order to get the talks started in Amman. Abbas has agreed to hold off with international moves until September, but each party is keen to produce some progress by the start of Ramadan (July 8th) where a prisoner release would be significant.

Abbas was demanding that all 120 prisoners be released at the launch of the talks. In return he would accept a full settlement freeze outside the ‘blocs’ and a partial freeze inside the blocs and East Jerusalem. He would also accept John Kerry’s commitment to the ‘67 lines being the basis rather than Netanyahu making the commitment.

Netanyahu agreed to all of the above it seems except the number of prisoners to be released. He feared that if he were to release all 120 upfront there would be nothing to keep the Palestinians from abandoning the talks and going to the UN in September anyway. Over three days the number the US negotiators managed to get Netanyahu to was 60, of which 20 would be released at the start of the talks, the other forty during.

Abbas rejected this and said that if there were not 120 then he would need a full settlement freeze and Netanyahu to personally accept the ‘67 lines. He feared he would look weak and compromising with only a minibus of 20 prisoners to Hamas’s 1000 prisoners that were freed in exchange for Gilad Schalit.  Netanyahu responded saying that if he was going to say ‘67 lines that Abbas would have to accept all of the Israeli security arrangements as is, including a long term military arrangement in the Jordan valley at the start of the process.

Kerry did not manage to break through this Gordian knot and has left two of his advisors in the region to see if they can fashion together a bridging proposal to get the talks started. In general it seems that the Palestinians are very clear with Kerry about pre-conditions and their final positions on all the key issues. Israel is focused on incentive packages to get the negotiations started and some vague language around the different issues. They are refusing to negotiate outside the negotiations themselves.

After all of his efforts remains totally unclear whether, even if the parties do agree to negotiations, a zone of possible agreement actually exists.

*This information is correct as of July 1st 2013 and is based off public forms of information.

UPDATE 7/21/13

Kerry announced that he had managed to get an agreement on the basis to have talks. Rather then having Bibi and Abbas speak to each other directly, Livni and Erekat will lead each team meeting in Washington DC this week with the hope of an announcement to follow.

Kerry has insisted on upmost secrecy in these talks so it is hard to work out what has been agreed and what has not. What we know so far is that Israel has agreed to release prisoners. The figure 350 is being pushed around and that all the pre Olso prisoners who are not Israeli Citizens will be released. Some of these prisoners will be released at the start of the talks and the rest in stages.

It is unclear if the Linvi Erekat talks are the talks themselves, or if they are talks to lead to more talks. Martin Indyk has been tapped to lead the talks as envoy for the US with both Abbas and Bibi agreeing.

On 67 lines and settlement freeze it seems that Kerry used the two letter system. To the Palestinians he wrote in his invite that the 67 lines would form the basis. To the Israelis he did not write that this would be a framework. To both parties he wrote a technical description of the talks. Within the technical description both parties promised to not make moves that would disrupt the talks (read settlements and international moves). They also agreed that only Kerry and a select few would be authorized to speak on the talks.

The secrecy seems necessary to get the parties on board, yet has led to much confusion on the ground on what has actually been agreed to, with the PLO saying that these are talks before the talks and that these have not been fully agreed to yet while the Israelis are reporting that these are the actual talks. While secrecy is important, the fear will be that rumors can fill the void that can damage the ability of the teams to negotiate. There is no good way to solve this issue.

The EU decree on settlements seems to have allowed Abbas to save face, create a stick for the Israelis and come at the right time to push the parties together. Whether the move was coordinated or a happy coincidence has not been resolved.

It seems that Abbas has staked his own reputation and that of the talks on prisoner releases hoping that getting something tangible will help bring public support for the talks. For Bibi it was the best of all bad options.

We wait to see when talks start in DC and if these will be able to make progress in order to have Bibi and Abbas in the same room. The timeframe people are looking at is between 6-9 months.

I will continue to update this post as things contiune.

UPDATE 7/29/13

The State department announced the preliminary talks to take place tonight between Livni, Molho (Bibi’s personal envoy) and Erekat and Shatyyeh. The hope is that by Tuesday there will be an announcement of the frames of the talks to last around 9 months.

The talks started after Bibi convinced his cabinet to release all of the 104 pre-Oslo prisoners. In an unpopular move Bibi won the cabinet vote with the prisoners being released in 4 stages.Most controversial were the Arab citizens of Israel and the Jerusalem residents who were on the agreed list. Many balked at the PA dictating terms for Israel’s own citizens.

A comprise deal was put on the table where all the Arab Citizens of Israel and Jerusalem residents would be in the last round of releases. Bibi, Boogie, Livni, Piron and Aaronovitch make up a 5 member committee that will over see this process.

Bibi also fast tracked a referendum law that would mean that any peace deal would be subject to a popular vote.

In Ramallah there were small demonstrations against the return to negotiations.

Martin Indyk was named today as the special envoy for the talks.

UPDATE 7/30/13

The first joint press conference between Livni, Erekat and Kerry happened following a dinner, a meeting with Obama and Biden and some more talks.

Kerry announced that there will be a 9 month process where everything will be on the table – all final status issues and all core issues. The next round of talks will happen in two weeks in either Israel of the West Bank. In the coming days Israel will ease conditions in West Bank and Gaza. Kerry is the only person authorized to speak about the talks – he urged everyone not to believe any thing that he does not say – and he stressed he would be saying little.

He also mentioned that the Quartet econ track would continue alongside as would General Allen’s security track with the Israelis. He stressed the mutually beneficial things that can come from reasonable principled compromises.

He finished by saying that there is no alternative to 2 States and that time was running out to get there.

Erekat made a short statement thanking the US and stating that no one benefits more from a deal then Palestinians.

Livni made a slightly longer statement about the sacrifices Israel has made to get to this point and hopes to get to a historic breakthrough.

 

 

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Kerry vs Bennett for the hearts and minds of the Diaspora

Ha’aretz 6/6/13 

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made an impassioned plea to the American Jewish community to rededicate itself to the two-state solution. Kerry has moved his ticking clocks from years to days, declaring if we don’t get the talks moving now, we never will. Yet, while Kerry is making his pitch to get the American Jewish community involved, Israel’s minister for Diaspora affairs is less keen.

Let me explain. During the coalition talks, Naftali Bennett asked for the roles of public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs and religious services to be included with his industry, trade and labor portfolio.

The public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs and the religious services portfolios have the greatest potential to shape the relationship between Israel and her Diaspora. Both of these jobs were demanded by Bennett, head of the Habayit Hayehudi party, home of the national religious the settlers.

Before trying to understand why Bennett wanted these jobs, it is important to clarify what these portfolios actually do. In the case of public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs, the minister is effectively the government’s foreign minister to Jewish communities abroad. Of all the formal and informal links between Israel and communities of the Jewish DiasporaTaglit-Birthright sits as the jewel in the crown, coordinating the visits of thousands of young Jews to Israel every year.

The Religious Services Ministry controls all issues of religion within Israel in addition to cultivating religious ties to the Diaspora. Alongside getting involved in the messy business of setting budgets for the yeshivot and state employed rabbis, it is the central battleground between the progressive streams of Judaism and the Orthodox establishment.

By taking both of these portfolios, Bennett, the Modern-Orthodox former chief of the Yesha Council of settlers, has put himself at the center of the two points of friction between Israel and the Diaspora, namely the growth of settlements and the status of progressive Jewish rights within Israel.

Two weeks ago, we found out that the Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Ministry had been handed over to Bennett, but not before it was stripped of everything that made it a ministry. Even Taglit-Birthright, the flagship program, was moved back into the Prime Minister’s Office along with the Masa Israel Journey program.

Yet Bennett has managed to turn his empty ministry into a tool that he can use to sell himself and his party to the Diaspora. Having grown up as a child of olim (immigrants), Bennett understands the Jewish-American community well. He knows that they want to see more religious pluralism within Israel and those they are not particularly fond of settlements.

Through the Religious Services Ministry, Bennett has made somesurprising moves that have enabled, for the first time, non-Orthodox rabbis to receive state money. In changing the model of how rabbinical figures receive their salaries, he has opened up the system to the non-Orthodox without having to deal with the issue head on. This policy, coupled with his move to allow Israelis to get married with any rabbinical council within Israel, is changing the landscape for progressive Jews within Israel.

By ingratiating himself with the progressive community, no easy feat as the head of a religious Zionist party, Bennett is demonstrating his value to the Diaspora on the issues that matter to them. Through his empty title of public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs minister, he has the right to be able to talk directly to Jewish communities about these achievements.

He hopes, one expects, that through his fight for equality for all Jews he will become a champion for Diaspora Jewry. In doing so, he will have succeeded in his quest to become a politician for all the Jewish people, not just those who live in the West Bank.

Through normalizing himself as a change maker, he will be able to bring himself and his party into the Diaspora’s mainstream. His policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians should not stop him being accepted if he is breaking the stranglehold of the ultra-Orthodox on issues that directly affect Reform and Conservative Jews.

So, while John Kerry hopes to motivate Jews in America to put pressure on the Israelis to reach a two-state solution with the Palestinians, Bennett is giving that same community legislative wins within the Knesset. It will be fascinating to see how dividing American Jews between two issues so keen to their heart will play out. The real question, however, remains: How much time is there before the clock runs out and there is no real choice to make? Time is certainly in Bennett’s favor, but whether he becomes a welcome figure in the established Jewish community of America waits to be seen.

Kerry’s Task: Close the Incredulity Gap

Daily Beast 24/5/13

With Ghaith al-Omari and Danielle Spiegel Feld

President Obama’s challenge to the thousand Israeli students he addressed in Jerusalem was clear: “Speaking as a politician, I can promise you this: political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do. You must create the change that you want to see.” The President, once a community organizer himself, understands the importance of grassroots momentum to change the status quo.

Secretary of State John Kerry has since made important progress towards reviving the two-state agenda: On the political front, the Israelis appear to have agreed to impose a settlement freeze of sorts, while the Palestinians have temporarily agreed not to pursue international legal actions against Israel. On the economic front, a private sector team of business leaders now stands ready to examine investment opportunities within the West Bank. And regionally, the Arab League has revived its 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, demonstrating that there is still Arab support for the idea of two states.

Yet, despite these promising developments, the Israeli and Palestinian publics are no closer to believing that peace is on its way.

The latest Pew polls report that 61 percent of Palestinians believe there is no way for an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully with Israel. Within Israel the figures are somewhat better—only 38 percent see no way to coexist—but the whole peace process was still virtually ignored in Israel’s last elections.

Thus, even though poll after poll indicates a plurality of each population would accept a two-state solution, a vast “incredulity gap” remains within each society. The physical erosion of the two-state solution due to settlement expansion, provocations by each sides’ leaders, violence that followed the Gaza disengagement, and relentless effects of the occupation, are causing both peoples to lose faith in the ideal of two states living beside each other in peace.

The incredulity gap poses a serious hurdle for Secretary Kerry. If the people do not believe a two-state solution is plausible, they will not actively push for it. And as President Obama made clear, without strong stakeholder engagement, there will be no pressure on political leaders to return to the negotiating table, nor remain there if the talks do take place.

There is, however, one bright spot in the recent polling data: a plurality of Israelis and Palestinians wants President Obama to play a bigger role in resolving the conflict (49 percent of Israelis and 41 percent of Palestinians). This provides an opening for Secretary Kerry to speak directly to these constituencies, bolstering support for civil society groups on both sides of the Green Line.

These groups need this extra attention: We cannot expect the grassroots in the region to make change when the mediators seeking to achieve that change pass them over.

The U.S. has established an admirable record of supporting people-to-people dialogue and regional cooperative initiatives, particularly through the auspices of U.S. AID funding programs. The Obama Administration is also in the midst of an important project to map the different civil society groups in the region to see how American support can best be allocated.

But given the urgency of the moment, the Administration needs to do more. The most immediate way of doing so is for Secretary Kerry to elevate the profile of Israeli and Palestinian two-state advocacy groups by meeting with select organizations during his next visit to the region. This meeting should mark the beginning of heightened U.S. engagement with civil society groups within each nation.

Many Palestinians believe that the U.S. has been deaf to their plight and blinded to the changing realities on the ground. By speaking with Palestinians directly, the Secretary can start a conversation that demonstrates he understands their position and promotes their understanding of his.

To be most effective, Secretary Kerry will need to speak with representatives of the varied voices of Palestinian civil society, including those who have remained active in peace advocacy as well as those who have grown too pessimistic to continue investing in the two-state solution. Kerry might not like all that he hears from these groups, but without engaging all these stakeholders, he will not be able to bring the people with him in this process.

Engaging with peace advocates in Israel is equally as important. Despite the fact that a majority of Israelis still identify the two-state solution as their preferred outcome, Israeli groups advocating two states are demoralized right now. By giving these groups an audience, Secretary Kerry can help reenergize Israel’s committed two-state advocates, emboldening them in their fight against the skepticism that abounds. And by speaking with political groups outside of the committed “left,” the Secretary can help publicize news of the promising recent developments, hopefully chipping away at the sense of futility that fuels many Israelis’ detachment.

With the same enthusiasm that Secretary Kerry has approached the economic, political and regional dynamics, he must now try to bring the people on board by directly engaging with those who have suffered the continued failures of initiatives past, building their support for efforts to start anew. If he is diligent in this task, the Secretary may just be able to translate his early diplomatic progress into concrete changes on the ground.

Nine Steps that will Kill the Two-State Solution

Daily Beast 3/21/13 also Ottomans and Zionists

With Obama visiting Israel, many groups are trying to get his attention so they can let the President know what they think he should do. Included within the pleas from the peace camp and the ‘Free Pollard’ camp is a document prepared by the Yesha council titled, “Judea and Samaria – It’s Jewish, It’s Vital, It’s Realistic.”

Questions answered within this Kafkaesque document include: why the demographics are on the Settlers’ side, why are the Palestinians stealing water from Israel, and what is the legal history of Israel’s settlement enterprise. Most interesting, however, is the nine-step plan that the Yesha council has created at the end of the document to fulfill their vision.

The main tool that the Yesha council has to achieve its vision are its political advocates in the Knesset and in the government. Their building in the West Bank happens through the good graces of the state authorities. Of course the main party for the Yesha council is HaBayit Hayehudi, but they also have representation through the Likud and Yisrael Beytanu and a scattering of MK’s in some of the center parties. Members of their communities operate across the center and right of the Israeli political spectrum.

Looking at the nine steps we can see the underlying HaBayit Hayehdui strategy during the coalition talks. Additionally we can start to make sense of some of the other Knesset and moves and statements by members of the settler community on the national stage.

Step 1: Renewing the strong belief in the supremacy of the Jewish claim to the Jewish Homeland and the justness of taking measures to maintain control of it

In the coalition agreement between Likud and HaBayit Hayehudi was a bill to make the Jewishness of the State supreme. This is a redo of the Avi Dichter bill from the last Knesset. No one is quite sure of which version will hit the Knesset, if it gets through Livni, but it is part of a big move to decouple the concepts of Jewish and Democratic state as equal and promote the former at the expense of the latter. The motivations behind this become clear in a strategy that is tied into biblical land claims and preparing for a situation where the civil rights of millions of Palestinians are going to have to be restricted.

Step 2: Uniting the nation and its leadership

Throughout the coalition talks, Bennett was the peacemaker between Lapid and Netanyahu and has pledged to be a leader for all of Israel, not just the settlers. His party has also taken over key ministries that can affect the cost of living across Israel. Bennett has been very keen to be seen as responding to the J14 protests and be a transformative politician that can transcend the tribal politics of the moment and be one of the new leaders of Israel alongside Lapid. By also slipping in the raising of the electoral threshold into the coalition agreement, he can ride the wave of HaBayait Hayehdui current popularity and force others from his camp to work with him if they want any representation at all. By forcing people into a broad tent he gives himself a broader appeal and solidifies himself and by extension the Yesha council firmly into the mainstream.

Step 3: Military strength and control of the territory by the security establishment

Though many ex-military and security men veer to the left after they retire from service (just see The Gatekeepers), the new Defense Minister, Moshe Yaalon, most definitely veers to the right and was the first choice of the settler community. Though the security establishment is pretty much entrenched in the West Bank already, Barak had been the thorn in the side of the Yesha council. With him removed the security establishment can work in concert with the Yesha council in helping it expand both from the Knesset and on the ground itself.

Step 4: The elimination of terror and cessation of incitement in Palestinian schools

While all Israelis want to see an end to terror and incitement, the previous governments’ flat-out rejection of the State Department’s school textbook report demonstrates a complete unwillingness to examine the issue of incitement on both sides of the border. It is essential to demonize the Palestinian national narrative while maintaining that individual Palestinians are ok and stating that the Settlements actually have had great relationships with the communities pre the first intifada.

Step 5: Creating a situation where it becomes clear to the international community that another state west of the Jordan River is not viable

The serious policy community is split about whether the two-state solution has already been killed by the settlements and the Yesha Council or if it is merely on life support. Needless to say, the Yesha Council is well on its way to pulling the plug. The new Deputy Foreign Minister, Ze’ev Elkin, already ascribes to this point of view. Though many advocates of one-state agree that the settlements have killed the two-state solution they do not share the Yesha councils vision of what a one-state solution would look like. The power and establishment will be with the Yesha council and in doing so they will have a tremendous momentum on the ground when two-states is officially abandoned to fulfill their vision before anyone else gets a look in. Yes Israel will lose friends and allies and there might be a brain drain that could seriously affect the economy. But I sadly have less faith that pressure will force Israel to give up its reason d’état of providing the Jewish People with self-defense and power by giving those they have been occupying full civic rights. The death of the two-state solution will mean the Yesha council has won, read the rest of their document to see how they view Palestinians.

Step 6: The further immigration of one million Jews to Israel to secure a permanent Jewish majority in Israel

In the coalition talks, Bennett managed to carve the Diaspora portfolio out of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and into his own portfolio. The reason for this now becomes crystal clear, he is desperate to get more Jews to immigrate. Bennett demanding this portfolio always seemed odd. The Settlements are often the largest bone of contention between Israel and her Diaspora (amongst Jews who are engaged at least). Passing on this responsibility to the former general secretary of the Yesha council looks on the surface to be a recipe for disaster. This step helps us understand the real consequence of why this demand was made. What will be interesting to see is how Bennett attempts to bring the Diaspora to Israel and how their aliyah will be tied to step 7. Is the aim just to lock in the demographics regardless of where the Jews live or to get them to move to the West Bank and lock in the settlements?  We will have to wait and see but watch to see where new job incentives will be made for new immigrants, Bennett has the ability through Trade and Industry to create incentives where he chooses.

Step 7: One million Jews in Judea and Samaria, tripling its Jewish population

With the housing and trade ministries, Habayit Hayehudi can now start working on this. The proof will be in where the new low-income housing is built. Even if just restricted into the settlement blocs, if this plan is being followed the aim will be a massive increase in settlers. As with step 6, we will have to see if alyiah and settlement are linked. President Bush (1st one) conditioned the aid to help resettle the Russian Jews on them not being housed in the West Bank understanding the threat there. One other important step to remember, Bennett received the public diplomacy portfolio as well. Through this he can push the settlements into the official Israeli government narrative both at home and abroad.

Step 8: The creation of large residential areas surrounding the current communities of Judea and Samaria

Housing, Trade, Knesset Finance chair – between these three portfolios and a willing defense minister the sky is the limit on step 8. I predict the concept of settlement bloc will expand and large scale projects begin to be planned as expansions in key areas. Even more so then Yaalon, Danny Danon is a particular fan of the Yesha council and he is deputy Defense Minister.

Step 9: The execution of a construction, development and economic plan for the million residents of Judea and Samaria

Habayit Hayehudi has already indicated that they would rather release prisoners and transfer taxes to the PA than freeze settlement construction. Looking at this nine-step plan, it is easy to see why he would rather give any other ‘confidence building measure’ than allow the slowing of the settler population.  The one thing that they cannot allow is a settlement freeze as it destroys the plan above.

This should be seen as nothing less than a strategic effort to kill the two-state solution. Keep in mind that Prime Minister Netanyahu just committed his new government to two states for two peoples in his joint press conference with the President on Wednesday. Looking at how this is planned out it is clear that the only thing that could stop this from happening is freezing settlement construction. The sad fact is that a settlement freeze has already been tossed by the US administration as a failed attempt.

The Yesha Council is very open about their aims, objectives and methods. If people want to do more than pay lip service to the idea of two-states, they must not only oppose the Yesha council at every turn of this plan but offer their own step by step approach to how to create a two-state reality today. Though it is the establishment opinion that two-states will happen, those opposing it literally are executing on a plan to kill it. Those of us who wish to see it come about must equally set out a plan and start building today facts on the ground to make it so.