Kerry announces Resumption of Peace Talks -- Who Blinked?
At this writing (Friday afternoon), that's as much news as is available from initial dispatches. The question now is what concessions Kerry extracted from both sides to get this far. While awaiting some answers, it may be instructive to parse pressures exerted on the parties by Kerry and to what extent each side abandoned its basic positions.
After six shuttle-diplomacy trips to the Middle East, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed on a basis for resumption of peace negotiations which have been dormant for more than three years. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are due in Washington next week to resume talks.
At this writing (Friday afternoon), that's as much news as is available from initial dispatches. The question now is what concessions Kerry extracted from both sides to get this far.
While awaiting some answers, it may be instructive to parse pressures exerted on the parties by Kerry and to what extent each side abandoned its basic positions.
There's no question but that Kerry -- with full backing from President Obama -- leaned heavily on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for major concessions. In hopes of winning over Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the secretary urged Netanyahu to embrace an Arab League peace plan, which is predicated on complete Israeli withdrawal from all areas captured in its defensive 1967 war, plus a "right of return" to Israel for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
Question No. 1: How much of the Arab League plan did Netanyahu accept, if anything?
Twenty-four hours before Kerry announced his breakthrough, Obama leaned heavily on Netanyahu to ease the way for resuming peace talks. Obama apparently did not make a similar call to Abbas.
Question No. 2: How much and what kind of pressure did Obama exert in this phone call?
On the Palestinian side, Abbas clung to three specific demands as pre-conditions for talks -- release of hundreds of Palestinian terrorist killers, a complete Israeli construction freeze in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and negotiations on the basis of a 1949 armistice line that lasted until 1967. The hardest nut seemed to be Abbas' precondition of requiring Israel to abandon the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem, including the entire Old City of Jerusalem. This would extend Palestinian sovereignty over the Western Wall and Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest sites.
Question No. 3: How much or how little did Abbas end up with when it came to his three basic demands?
Finally, it should be duly noted that, while Team Obama agreed with the Israelis that negotiations should proceed without any preconditions, Kerry embarked on a slippery slope of yielding considerably on this point. In the end, Kerry's own list of pre-conditions kept getting bigger and bigger, although he tried hide this with all sort of semantic euphemism -- frames of reference, confidence-building measures and other such contortions.