January 31, 2014

Kerry Plan Details Emerge as Israeli Coalition Wobbles

from Churches for Middle East Peace:

This week, Thomas Friedman reports in The New York Times that according to U.S. officials he’s spoken with, Kerry is planning to present, "a U.S. framework that will lay out what Washington considers the core concessions Israelis and Palestinians need to make for a fair, lasting deal." He writes, "The 'Kerry Plan,' likely to be unveiled soon, is expected to call for an end to the conflict and all claims, following a phased Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank (based on the 1967 lines), with unprecedented security arrangements in the strategic Jordan Valley.” He also says that some settlement blocs will remain in the West Bank, but Israel will “compensate the Palestinians with Israeli territory." It will call for Palestinians to have a capital in East Jerusalem, Palestinians recognizing "Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people" and no right of return for Palestinian refugees into Israel.

The ideas themselves are not groundbreaking. Variations of this formula have been known for years, but getting the parties to accept them would be historic and could move the negotiations decisively closer to ending to the occupation.

Friedman concludes that if this doesn’t work, "Israelis and Palestinians need to understand that Kerry’s mission is the last train to a negotiated two-state solution. The next train is the one coming at them."

But of course not everyone sees it that way. Israeli Economy minister and perpetual coalition troublemaker Naftali Bennett launched an “unprecedented attack” against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that could shake up the Israeli government. Bennett slammed Netanyahu’s willingness to allow Jewish-Israeli settlers to remain in a future Palestinian state if they wish saying, “Our ancestors will never forgive an Israeli leader who divides our land and our capital.”

The statement appeared to personally offended Netanyahu, who reportedly offered an ultimatum to Bennett: apologize or get kicked out of the cabinet. One Likud official told Haaretz that, “a lack of apology comes at a price.” He continued, “If he doesn't apologize, he endangers the composition of the current government. We have enough alternatives to Habayit Hayehudi. A government without Bennett can continue to worry about the security of the state just like every government before him.”

Tuesday, Bennett clarified his remarks saying, “If the prime minister was hurt, I am certainly sorry about that.” However, Haaretz reports, “his office released a correction and said that they made a mistake while transcribing Bennett's statements, and that he in fact did not apologize.”

Netanyahu has not directly responded to the trade minister’s comments but he did have a not-so-subtle jab at Bennett’s refusal to support a two-state solution, saying  “I don’t want a bi-national state. Most of the Israeli public does not want a bi-national state.”

Columnist Barak Ravid interprets this statement from Netanyahu’s point of view: “I am in the center. My positions are the consensus and the public is with me and not with Bennett - he wants to annex most of the West Bank.”

Media reports indicate the spat is at least dormant, for now. Ravid reports a Netanyahu associate told him, “We will act when we see fit… We are studying all kinds of ideas for punishments and reprisals. At the right place and the right time, Bennett will get his and pay the price.”

Removing Bennett’s Jewish Home party out of the coalition and replacing it with center and center-left parties that support negotiations has the potential to free up Netanyahu to make the tough decisions needed to make peace. The leader of the Labor party has already said it would join to coalition to support the negotiations if the members of the far right leave. However, such a move could also split the prime minister’s own Likud party. Netanyahu may be unwilling to wage this battle just yet, but he certainly has political possibilities to pursue a negotiated two-state solution should the time come.

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