U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry may have just left Israel this past Monday, but it is already expected that he will return next week as part of his continuing effort to achieve a "framework agreement" between Israel and the Palestinians.
The main remaining point of contention regarding a framework deal is how the 1967 borders will be referred to in it. The Palestinians are demanding that the agreement declare that the peace negotiations will be based on the 1967 borders, while Israel opposes such a declaration. For its part, the U.S. is interested in the deal including a clause referring to the 1967 borders with land swaps, explaining that this has been "the consistent American position" over the past two decades of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, as evidenced by various past negotiation documents.
One possibility is that the framework deal will refer to "1967" without the word "borders." Such a solution would be similar to the one included in the "Roadmap for Peace" signed in April 2003 by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The wording of the clause would be along the lines of -- "The goal is to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian population that began in 1967, while understanding and taking into account changes that have occurred on the ground." In essence, a declaration like this would preserve Israel's right to the Jerusalem region and settlement blocs.
Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said on Tuesday that, during his latest visit to the region, Kerry had heard things from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that "perhaps no one else has heard."
Shapiro said it was possible that the nine-month negotiating window that opened last July would be extended. He also noted that a proposal for a framework deal could be finalized within the next month.
In light of various difficulties, there is also a possibility that a framework document will not be put on the table. Instead, Israel and the Palestinians could agree to continue talks on core issues based on a general American statement, rather than a framework deal.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was in London on Tuesday, where he met with U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague. In a joint statement, Lieberman and Hague praised Kerry's peace-seeking efforts, saying that "the current negotiations provide a unique opportunity to end the conflict once and for all."
"We also discussed the unprecedented package of security, political and economic support that the European Union will provide to the parties in the event of a final status agreement," the statement said.
Also on Tuesday, Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud) toured the Gaza Strip border region and said, "Kerry must learn from the bad experience of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. We left and Hamas entered and created a situation in which more than half of Israeli territory faces a missile threat. This is what will happen if Kerry's plan for a withdrawal from Judea and Samaria is accepted."
Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) on Tuesday rejected an idea articulated by Lieberman earlier this week of drawing the borders of a future Palestinian state to include some Israeli Arab areas.
During a visit to the Israeli Arab town of Sakhnin, Sa'ar said, "As interior minister, I want to stand by the concept of citizenship. An Israeli citizen is not an object that can be transferred."
On Wednesday, the Knesset was expected to hold a preliminary reading on a bill proposed by Labor MK Hilik Bar that would prohibit unilateral annexations and ensure that the future of Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip could only be determined within the framework of a two-state solution. Bar proposed the bill in response to Likud MK Miri Regev's recent proposal to apply Israeli sovereignty to Jewish areas of the Jordan Valley. The chances of either of these bills being approved by the Knesset are very low.