The U.S. has yet to issue a detailed blueprint for the Israeli-Palestinian agreement. At this stage it is still raw and flexible, and could undergo major changes. This is how the touted deployment of U.S. early warning systems to prevent any surprise attack through the Jordan Valley became the deployment of Israeli soldiers along the Jordan River, and then became international forces to be stationed there. Are more changes coming?
On Tuesday, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat declared that the Jordan Valley is Palestinian territory. He effectively stated the opposite of what Jordan's King Abdullah said the other day. The Hashemite monarch indicated that he would not like to see the area handed over to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In fact, having the Palestinians security forces control the area is probably be his least preferred option.
Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon says he would prefer an EU boycott over a rocket attack on Ben-Gurion International Airport. These statements are not meant for world leaders but for the government here at home. Making such assertions is his way of holding a covert dialogue with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others in the coalition.
But the decision-makers have diverging views on this. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and MK Tzachi Hanegbi were quoted as saying that Netanyahu would agree to a framework agreement as long as the talks' deadline was extended.
The Likud's more hardline elements believe they have Netanyahu cornered, leaving him no option but to buy time until President Barack Obama serves out his term. Ya'alon serves as the linchpin for movement on this front. He has assumed the roles Ehud Barak, Dan Meridor and Binyamin (Benny) Ze'ev Begin had in Netanyahu's previous cabinet.
If Netanyahu decides to pursue a deal, he would have to have Ya'alon on board. Having Netanyahu and Ya'alon in lockstep does not guarantee that Israel and the U.S. would be able to reach an agreement, but the absence of cooperation between the two men completely precludes even the possibility of such an agreement.
The government has three foci that could impact the its conduct: Livni, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett. But everything ultimately boils down to the relationship (or the lack thereof) between Netanyahu and Ya'alon.
As a result of this murky situation, second-tier politicians have resorted to extreme rhetoric. Erekat has prodded Abbas to throw in the towel and end the talks. The former head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Force, Jibril Rajoub, has lamented that Israel keeps changing its premier every four years and that this forces the talks to go back to square one. On the Israeli side, Likud MKs have introduced new legislation and organized tours in contested areas (such as the Jordan Valley), hoping this would soothe their pain.
Things are happening all at once. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is on his way to the Middle East with another draft for a framework agreement; Netanyahu is trying to assure the Right that no meaningful concessions are in the offing; and Habayit Hayehudi is between a rock and a hard place, on the one hand sounding the alarm, but on the other hand reassuring itself that nothing of consequence is going to come out of that talks and that it would be able to stay in the government.
Well, not quite. Kerry's drive is stronger than ever. He has been closing in on Ramallah and Jerusalem.
Israel's unilateral goodwill gestures lost some of their effect because they were carried out just as new settlement construction was announced. This, despite the fact that the new tenders relate to housing units in areas that are likely to stay under Israeli control (even Bennett didn't think it was necessary to couple the prisoner release with more construction).
But on the Palestinian side there is standstill, with not even a murmur that could hint of a similar gesture. Israel has said both "yes" and "no"; the Palestinians have been saying "no" and "no."