(Washington, D.C.) — A fascinating but dicey and possibly dangerous moment is rapidly approaching in the epicenter.
The Obama administration is about to tell the Israelis and Palestinians how to solve their problems. The White House is about to pressure both sides to agree “in principle” to an interim agreement, and then work on a final peace treaty. How the two sides will react is anyone’s bet. Could the dynamic actually lead to a peaceful resolution of an ancient conflict? Seems unlikely. Could it lead to a calm and quiet at least for a while? Sure, theoretically. But to be candid, it could also lead to political chaos, or even to renewed violence.
Let me explain as concisely as I can.
Within days, or at most a few weeks, Secretary of State John Kerry will present both sides with what he calls a “framework agreement.” Essentially, this is an American-crafted peace plan. Yes, it will be based on month after month of discussions with both sides, and with the Jordanians. But make no mistake: it’s the plan President Obama wants to impose on the two parties. It is supposed to create the context for the final peace treaty, which the White House wants negotiated, completed, and signed by the end of 2014.
There will be much in the “framework agreement” both sides don’t like. For example, the plan reportedly calls for dividing Jerusalem and turning into East Jerusalem into the Palestinian capital, something the Netanyahu team adamantly rejects. The plan also keeps Israeli troops helping patrol and secure the Jordan Valley for a period of years, something the Abbas team adamantly rejects. Nevertheless, the two sides are supposed to say “yes” to this interim deal, and then use it to craft a final and supposedly “better” deal.
But this where the problems lie. There are many. Let’s consider just two.
First, the Obama team could inadvertently make the situation worse. It could accidentally set into motion events that lead to renewed Palestinian terrorism (i.e., a “Third Intifada”) which would force the Israeli Defense Forces into a combat mode. Casualties could escalate, and things could get out of control. It’s happened before. In 2000, then-President Bill Clinton tried to pressure the Israelis and Palestinians to make a final deal at Camp David. Then-Israeli PM Ehud Barak finally agreed to make sweeping concessions to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. Barak offered the Palestinians all of Gaza, 93% of the West Bank, and half of Jerusalem for their capital, in return for a final peace treaty and the end to all claims. But wanting much more, Arafat said no. He quit the talks, left Camp David and then supported the Second Intifada, which unleashed a wave of suicide bombers who kept killing Israeli civilians, and caused the IDF to invade cities and towns in the West Bank to find and crush these terror cells.
Let’s pray this doesn’t happen. We all want peace. We certain don’t want violence to break out again, especially on such a wide scale.
Second, trying to force both sides to accept an American peace plan could blow up either or both governments.
If the Netanyahu government says “yes” to this interim Obama peace plan, his coalition may revolt. Already the right-wing parties fear that Netanyahu will make dangerous concessions in the final negotiations. He has made major concessions before, giving the ancient city of Hebron to the Palestinians, for example. If Netanyahu looks like he’s agreeing to more painful and arguably unwise concessions, certain Israeli political parties may quit the coalition, or Netanyahu might fire them. Political tensions in Jerusalem have been spiking all week for these very reasons. Saying “yes” might mean the Netanyahu government has be significantly reshuffled (i.e., replacing defecting right-wing parties with one or more left-wing parties). But it also could collapse all together. If so, then new elections would have to be called, which would further delay if not derail the “peace process.”
But if Netanyahu’s government says “no” to the Obama plan, there could also be repercussions.
- Israel’s Finance Minister Yair Lapid warns European countries could impose a boycott on Israeli goods to punish Israel for saying “no” to the American plan. Lapid says this could cost Israel billions of dollars in lost exports and “hit every Israeli citizen directly in his pocket.”
- Israel’s Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz says Lapid’s concerns are overblown, and Israel could weather the storm.
Given that no one knows which side of that debate is right, there is a great deal of pressure on the Netanyahu team not to inadvertently create an economic nightmare for the Israeli people.
Yet there is also great pressure on Netanyahu not to make concessions that threaten the long-term security of the Jewish state.
- What if Hamas Islamists seize control of the West Bank government from the more secular Fatah faction, like it did in Gaza? Then what?
- If the IDF stops operating in the West Bank — arresting terrorists and shutting down rocket factories — then the security situation in the West Bank could devolve into the nightmare that we see in Gaza, with rockets being fired at Israeli towns and cities, and even at Israel’s airport. Then what?
- If the IDF stops overseeing security in the West Bank, what if al Qaeda and Hamas and other jihadist groups (such as the 30,000 jihadists that are operating in Syria right now) turn the territory into yet another base camp for suicide bombers and other forms of terrorism?
- What if Christian holy sites in Jerusalem are turned over the Palestinian Authority, but Hamas eventually comes to power? Will Christian tourists feel safe visiting those sites under Hamas supervision? Would the Hamas government even allow Christian tourists to visit?
- The “framework agreement” reportedly would put 75% to 80% of Israeli Jewish settlements in the West Bank under Palestinian control. Would the Jews living in the rest of the settlements be safe in such a scenario?
That said, you and I have not actually seen the Obama/Kerry plan yet. There is no need to rush to judgment. We’ll see all the details soon enough. I just want you to be aware of the dynamic, and the tensions that are building.
Like many of you, I am praying for peace. I want Israelis and Palestinians to live in freedom, security, prosperity and with full religious freedom.
I don’t want to be a cynic. But I must be honest — I am skeptical.
The interim agreement this administration just struck with Iran — on the way to a full, comprehensive agreement — is a terrible deal. Dangerous for the U.S. Dangerous for Israel. Dangerous for all our allies in the Middle East.
Will this interim deal be similarly flawed, or even dangerous? Time will tell. But there are real reasons to be concerned. Let that drive us to prayer all the more.
- “The Obama administration will soon present a framework for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement that the sides may accept with reservations as a basis for a final deal by year’s end, the top US negotiator told Jewish leaders.
Martin Indyk, the State Department’s lead envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, told the Jewish leaders on Thursday that under the framework agreement about 75-80 percent of settlers would remain in what would become Israeli sovereign territory through land swaps; he added that it was his impression that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was not averse to allowing settlers who want to remain as citizens of the Palestinian state.
Indyk said the framework would be presented to the sides within weeks, and that there will be “no surprises” for the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, according to four people who were on the off the record call.
This was because Indyk and Secretary of State John Kerry consulted closely with the leaders of both governments as Indyk’s team drafted the agreement.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas would be expected to accept the agreement, with reservations, as the basis of continued negotiations, Indyk apparently said.
Making it a US-drafted framework permitted the leaders to distance themselves from politically sensitive issues, Indyk said. “There may be things we need to say because they can’t say them yet,” he said, according to the notes of one participant.
Broadly, Indyk said, the agreement will address: mutual recognition; security, land swaps and borders; Jerusalem; refugees; and the end of conflict and all claims.
A request for comment from the State Department was not returned.
On some sensitive issues — particularly the status of Jerusalem — the framework would be vague, but Indyk went into detail on other issues that participants said was surprising.
Among these was the security arrangement for the border between Jordan and the West Bank: Indyk said a new security zone would be created, with new fences, sensors and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Indyk also said that the framework would address compensation for Jews from Arab lands as well as compensation for Palestinian refugees — another longstanding demand by some pro-Israel groups but one that has yet to be included in any formal document.
He said that the framework would describe “Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the nation state of the Palestinian people,” a nod to a key demand by the Netanyahu government that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state.
He said the framework would address the issue of incitement and Palestinian education for peace.