The United States is not giving up. John Kerry returns to the region today (Wednesday) eager to continue with negotiations. He is not alone. He has the full backing of President Barack Obama. Diplomatic sources say the Americans were not surprised by Palestinian opposition to the security plan devised in Washington. They found two advantages in Mahmoud Abbas' intransigence. First, it allows the administration to align itself with Israel following the fresh wound of the nascent Iran deal in Geneva. Second, when Mahmoud Abbas accepts the main points of the U.S. security vision, it will be hard for Israel to reject them.
Now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon claim that they refuse to exchange the broad territories held by the Israel Defense Forces in the Jordan Valley for high-level detection technologies. But when it emerges that Israel will be allowed to hold on to these territories for 15 years, it will be hard for Israel to continue to oppose the plan, even though in Washington they know that Amman is no less fearful than Israel of a possible Palestinian deployment along the river.
Both sides are trying to present achievements to their domestic audiences. Now that Kerry is threatening to postpone the third wave of prisoner releases, he is creating a convenient pretext for Abbas to claim, when the release finally takes place, that he scored an achievement and reversed the evil decree.
The American plan has two elements -- security and diplomatic. The security aspect sits better with Israel, and therefore it will be discussed first in the upcoming round of negotiations. But it contains elements that are not currently acceptable to either side, each for its own reasons. Still, there are enough points that are acceptable to Jerusalem and Ramallah that security talks may raise the hackles of both sides but will not cause a crisis in the talks.
It is important to point out that the temporary nature of the agreement -- even if it ends up being long-term -- strengthens the prevalent assumption that Washington realizes that a comprehensive settlement at this stage is a pipe dream. There is a spirit of an agreement in the air. Whoever doesn't feel it will become aware of the fact when the diplomatic element is placed on the table, threatening the integrity of Israel's current coalition and perhaps even Mahmoud Abbas' own hold on power.
The round that starts today with Kerry's visit brings each side closer to a situation where they may have to make concessions. This is the first time when they cannot fall back on general statements, but are under pressure from America (with Europe looking over its shoulder) to talk about territory, about the essentials and the substance.
This explains the great tension experienced by the three parties to the negotiations. Each of them feels domestic and outward pressure. This pressure is what channels them to an interim agreement as opposed to a permanent peace, in one courageous leap.
This tension could lead, in one fell swoop, to a new agreement, or to a total collapse of the talks. There a single symptom that could have two different results.