The unequivocal conclusion from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict simulation exercise, held a few weeks ago at Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya's Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy, was that it would be impossible to reach a final-status agreement to end the conflict and that striving for an interim or partial agreement would be the only way to prevent current talks from failing altogether.
Comments by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. President Barack Obama could have led one to believe the Americans hold a similar view on the matter. Kerry, however, said over the weekend that the goal is to reach a final status agreement by April. Is this a sign of confusion and inconsistency, or an attempt at semantic acrobatics to smooth the edges and placate the two sides?
The three parties officially involved in the process -- Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S. -- oppose temporary or partial agreements, each for its own reason. Israel isn't prepared to offer any more concessions to the Palestinians without first resolving the core issues at hand. There is also fierce opposition on the right-wing side of the political map, which sees any move to meet the Palestinians' demands -- if only partial -- as a threat to the vision of a greater Israel.
The Palestinian objections stem from much the same reason, but from a different direction: With the French saying entrenched in their minds that "nothing is as permanent as something fleeting," the Palestinians fear that any issue resolved in the interim agreement will become permanent, ultimately burying their idea of a Palestinian state.
However, the fundamental reason for the Palestinians' objections is, as always, their aversion to any possibility of an accord, whether interim or final, that would obligate them to compromise -- if only on some of the core issues.
The Americans are aware, of course, of all of these reservations, but they also understand that in practical terms there is no possible way to reach a comprehensive agreement on the core issues, which is why they recently proposed drafting an agreement that would predetermine the parameters of a final status agreement. Kerry believes that solutions to the core issues are already known (derived from the Clinton plan of 2000 or the Annapolis talks in 2008), therefore making it feasible to agree "on a basic framework" that would "address all the core issues" and be able to lead to a "full-on peace treaty."
Kerry has forgotten, apparently, that the devil is in the details and that no real agreement exists now, or has ever existed, on the relevant issues -- not on the refugees, not on Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, and not on recognition and security. Moreover, a framework agreement of this sort will not prevent the sides from disagreeing nonetheless. It will actually make the sides more extreme and will, on a practical level, render the negotiations ineffectual.
The Americans want to hitch their wagon in front of the horses, and this wagon has no wheels. In principal, it might have been possible to demand interim deals, but without insisting on a final-status agreement. "Interim agreements" are a general, overarching description that can include operational, economic, security-related and even territorial issues. It is entirely possible that Israel could agree, despite its current stance, to an interim deal under certain conditions -- if only to avoid conceding that the whole process had been a failure. What is clear, though, is that Israel must insist, whether in an interim or final-status deal, if there ever is one, on comprehensive and permanent security arrangements in the areas controlled by the Palestinian entity and in the Jordan Valley, which is a natural geographical and topographical buffer against aggression and subversion from hostile elements in the region.
Kerry's recent statement that Israel would be more secure if "integrated into a regional security architecture and surrounded by newfound partners" sounds more than a little delusional when casting a brief glance at what is happening in the Middle East, from Iran to Yemen, Syria to Africa. Advancing an agreement with the Palestinians is an important goal in and of itself, but it has nothing to do with the real threats -- not just to Israel, but also to peace and to the stability of the world around us.