News Analysis: Kerry bids to revive peace talks amid slim hope
XINHUA NEWS 2013-12-06
by Matthew Kalman
JERUSALEM, Dec. 6 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returned to the Middle East this week for his eighth visit this year trying to save the stalled talks, but analysts here predict slim prospect for his fresh efforts.
The current Israeli-Palestinian talks began in July but appeared to be stuck after 20 sessions in Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Jericho, half-way through the nine-month time frame agreed with the Americans. At least one recent negotiating session has been cancelled. One of the two main Palestinian negotiators, Mohammed Ishtayeh, has resigned, saying the gaps between the two sides block any chance of reaching a peace deal.
But Kerry remains optimistic, declaring that he perceives "some progress" where others see very little.
While the core issues of refugees, borders, settlements and Jerusalem remained firmly unresolved, Kerry set out to demonstrate U.S. resolve on one practical issue by presenting a plan for future security arrangement drafted by General John Allen, the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
The plan was designed to meet Israeli demands that the Jordan Valley would not become a porous route for militants entering the West Bank via Jordan, while allaying Palestinian fears that satisfying Israel's security needs effectively meant Israel's continuing occupation of the West Bank.
Analysts, however, said there will be little chance that the security plan presented by Kerry is well received by both sides.
Dr. Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar- Ilan University, said Israelis were dismayed by what they believe was Kerry's eagerness in Geneva to accept "a bad deal" over the Iranian nuclear program and had no intention of accepting U.S. promises when it came to the security of Israel's eastern border.
"Israel is very concerned about security issues," said Steinberg. "The United States is in no position now to reassure Israel that it will protect Israeli security after what happened in Geneva, so the talks were in crisis before they started and there's no public indication that there is a package on the table. "
"We're talking primarily about the area of the Jordan Valley, the border with Jordan. Israel is very reluctant to give up that territory without international guarantees, so there's going to be a lot of skepticism over whatever Kerry brings," he said.
From the Palestinian point of view, Kerry's plan seems to favor Israeli security needs over the basic Palestinian demand that the occupation of the West Bank must come to an end, and soon.
"What we are witnessing today is a security arrangement proposed by the Americans, focusing on security which is the Israeli obsession," said Dr. Mahdi Abdul Hadi, chairman of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs.
"Israelis are searching for the best formula for security, which means the containment of the Palestinians in cantons. In line with this, here come the Americans with formulas for security like John Allen's formula now with early-warning stations on the West Bank and full Israeli control of the Jordan Valley, maintaining Israeli control of Area C and again containing the Palestinians."
As part of the 1993 Oslo Accords, the West Bank was divided up into three administrative regions: Areas A, B and C.
According to these interim accords, Area C, which makes up 60 percent of the West Bank and contains all the major Jewish " settlement blocs," is under full Israeli civil and security control.
Both Steinberg and Abdul Hadi agreed that the talks have achieved very little so far on any of the key issues.
"Frankly, the Americans have not done anything to try to resolve those issues because they don't really understand how to deal with them," said Steinberg.
"I don't think people should fool themselves. There are no peace talks. There are meetings searching for formulas," said Abdul Hadi.
The Palestinians fear that the U.S. strategy is to normalize Israel's relations with the Arab world without securing full Palestinian statehood.
"Washington comes with a serious message to the Israelis to get out of the military ghetto, to normalize its relationships with the Gulf States and the Arab countries. They want to stop Mr. Netanyahu from spoiling this kind of game," said Abdul Hadi.
"Everybody knows that Mr. Netanyahu is not going to deliver. Everybody is expecting to maintain the status quo as is," he said.
But Steinberg disagreed, saying that Netanyahu was determined to move forward on the Palestinian issue, even if he could not fully satisfy Palestinian aspirations for a completely independent state on all of the West Bank.
"My guess is that after nine months, if there's no framework for agreement, there may be Israeli unilateral moves," said Steinberg. "The Israeli government under Prime Minister Netanyahu does not want to see this situation stay at the status quo as it's been since 1967."
Israel will probably take some moves to change the boundaries even if there's no agreement, he said, adding that there will be more territory for the Palestinians, less Israeli involvement except in security issues.
"They are going to take unilateral moves, perhaps like what happened in 2005 when Israel withdrew from Gaza. The only difference now would be that Israel would not withdraw its military presence from vital areas of the West Bank," he predicted.