Tuesday September 1, 2015
Israel Hayom
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Zalman Shoval

An 'agreement' without agreement

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is an optimist, but the question is to what degree he smooths over the facts to justify his optimism, including to himself.

"We know what the issues and the parameters are," he told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before their meeting. He avoided mentioning, however, that all these issues -- mutual recognition, Jerusalem, refugees, borders, security -- have not been agreed upon by the sides. Moreover, the goal of "ending the conflict" grows further away every time a Palestinian leader comments on the negotiations.

It's just a shame that Palestinian denial and rejectionism are also aided by some Israeli politicians, who cast the majority of the blame for the lack of progress in negotiations, sometimes all of it, on Israel while elegantly ignoring the facts. We can perhaps argue over one decision or another pertaining to construction in the West Bank and the timing of it, but we should be able to expect a Knesset member, one who is a member of the coalition no less, not to skew the facts just to score a fleeting headline in the press.

Incidentally, to Kerry's credit actually, he is not blowing construction beyond the "Green Line" out of proportion and considers it to be of secondary importance, as opposed to his predecessor Hillary Clinton, and to President Barack Obama, who initially made the settlements the primary focus of their Israeli-Palestinian policy, and suffered a resounding failure as a result.

The fundamental variable in this entire complex equation was and remains the Palestinians' determination to avoid, to the best of their abilities, measures that commit them to concessions and compromises, especially with regard to recognition of Israel as the national Jewish homeland -- recognition of its very right to exist. From this point we can clearly extrapolate what the Palestinians intend to do. When the nine-month deadline allotted by Kerry for the current talks comes to an end, they will return to the various international bodies, including the International Criminal Court at The Hague, to advance their goals unilaterally and without the need for compromise.

Perhaps massive American pressure on the Palestinian leadership, including a threat of imposing economic sanctions, could persuade it to change course, and American pressure of this kind would be more effective if accompanied by concrete Saudi support. This is the reason Kerry rushed from Jerusalem to Riyadh and, at least according to the reports, Riyadh indeed complied -- despite its anger, and that of its allies, toward the U.S. over policies in Syria and Iran.

It can be assumed that Kerry and his advisers, despite their outward optimism, are aware of the difficulties piling up as the deadline approaches, which is why the goal is to reach a "framework" agreement. Israel has apparently consented to the proposal, and not just to avoid being blamed for the talks failing, but because doing so would also push back the deadline, as it wants. The Palestinians, for their part, will object because any deadline extension will prevent them from implementing their planned course of action at the United Nations. Kerry, in any case, will not relent from his objective of presenting some sort of signed document in a few months, if not by his original target of April 29: "not a final-status agreement but also not a partial agreement, rather an outline for final-status negotiations."

Just as in the diplomatic dictionary the term "non paper" is actually a written document, and "note verbale" is a verbal agreement written out on paper, it is certainly possible that there will be an "agreement" without any of the sides actually agreeing.

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