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HOW DID KERRY FINALLY DO IT?

Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

There is more than meets the eye - that is the only explanation for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's success in cajoling the Palestinians and Israel back to the table. After failing five times previously, Kerry with the Arab League's support, apparently made Abbas and Netanyahu an offer that neither leader could refuse. This despite the fact that both antagonists face bitter opposition among their respective supporters to the two-state solution.

 On the face of it, the Israeli leader stuck to his guns: no Palestinian prior conditions, no 1967 line as the basis for talks and no settlement freeze. Moreover, Likud Cabinet Minister Yuval Steinitz promptly reassured the Right wing that Abbas had committed to at least nine months of talks. This ruled out the possibility that a 'reticent' Abbas would quickly torpedo the talks, blame Netanyahu and then return to the U.N. General Assembly to renew his diplomatic campaign against Israel. On the other hand, Netanyahu agreed to release a substantial number of Palestinian terrorists, some are cold-blooded killers, who were sentenced before the Oslo agreement was signed in 1993. This sensitive issue will trigger an angry reaction by families of the Jewish victims but celebrations by Palestinians on the West Bank.

 Arab League Backs Abbas...

This is a major shift in the Arab, formerly, Saudi initiative that ...reflects a growing sentiment in the Arab Sunni world that Shi'a Iran and its nuclear ambitions is the real threat, and not Israel.

 It would appear, that after President Barack Obama telephoned Netanyahu to 'encourage' him to do all he could to aid Kerry, the Secretary of State leaned more on Abbas, who faces fierce opposition from Hamas in Gaza. But now there was a significant difference. For the first time, the Arab League issued a statement saying it would not oppose an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that included land swaps to the '67 line which was a major show of support for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. It was vital not to leave Abbas alone out in the Arab cold. This is a major shift in the Arab, formerly, Saudi initiative that seeks a peace accord with the Jewish state. It reflects a growing sentiment in the Arab Sunni world that Shi'a Iran and its nuclear ambitions is the real threat, and not Israel. It is also likely that while Kerry was busy mediating between Abbas and Netanyahu, American diplomats were quietly urging their Arab allies to bolster Abbas. (Remember when President Obama visited Ramallah in March, he told the Palestinians to forget their rigid 'prior conditions' and go back to the table.) Apparently, Kerry was able to convince Abbas that he could count on the U.S. position that the 1967 line must be the basis for negotiating a Palestinian state, although this would not be stipulated publicly. And what if Israel helped improve the deterioration in the West Bank's economy that has triggered public protests recently? Might Netanyahu have also promised Obama that he would take it easy on building outside of Israel's settlement blocs in the near future? The bottom line - Kerry promised that he would act as an honest broker, and even if the talks broke down the U.S. would stick to its current position against settlements and for the 1967 line with border swaps. Giving peace another chance could also avert another bloody intifada, a wave of violence that could lead to a Hamas takeover on the West Bank in the same manner as Gaza.          

 Netanyahu's Iranian prism...

His comments to CBS TV indicated that the PM may be closer than anyone thinks to taking a dramatic decision.

 Now look at it from the vantage point of the PM's office in Jerusalem - what is his top priority today and in the days ahead? Netanyahu has just stated that while international attention is focused on the goings-on in Egypt and Syria, Iran is now cruising to its first nuclear weapon. Iran's 'faster centrifuges' could enable the Iranians to break out for the Bomb 'within weeks' and Israel's nuclear clock might induce him to consider a preemptive strike before the U.S. was prepared to act militarily. His comments to CBS TV indicated that the PM may be closer than anyone thinks to taking a dramatic decision. Consider this: IDF Gen. Nitzan Alon had warned of a new Palestinian intifada on the West Bank, if Kerry did not succeed in reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Certainly if Netanyahu decides to go it alone against Iran, he would want to do so without a Palestinian intifada raging on the West Bank and possibly being blamed by Washington and the rest of the world for not aiding Kerry. By doing what the Secretary  required to get Abbas on board Netanyahu may have gained nine months free from more international opprobrium such as the E.U. ban on Israeli institutions in the territories.   

 Israel's Right & Hamas on war path...  

In Gaza, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, has condemned the renewal of the peace talks declaring that Abbas lacks a Palestinian mandate to conduct negotiations.

 The fact that Kerry's breakthrough came on the Sabbath has muted the Right's reaction in Israel. Netanyahu's problem is that many, if not a majority of his own Likud Party, are opposed to the two-state solution, which is the ultimate goal of the upcoming negotiations. (During the latest Kerry mission, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett even found it fitting to publically declare that his party would bolt the coalition 'in a second', if Netanyahu dared negotiate on the basis of the 1967 line. Bennett has even referred to the Palestinian issue as nothing more than a 'pain in the ass'. This attitude also reflects the lackadaisical approach by Israel's diplomatic policy elite that was caught napping by the EU Commission's new guidelines.

 Israeli Right-wingers can be counted upon to watch like hawks what goes down in Washington.

 In Gaza, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, has condemned the renewal of the peace talks declaring that Abbas lacks a Palestinian mandate to conduct negotiations.

 Credibility gap is first hurdle...

Although the two sides have officially accepted the two-state solution, the maximum that each leader could offer falls far short of the minimum the other could accept.

 The credibility gap between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas was so great that Kerry had to work overtime. Now it will be up to Israel's Tzipi Livni and the Palestinians' Saeb Erekat to start narrowing it behind closed doors with Kerry. It is a monumental task, and there will be endless ups and downs. Although the two sides have officially accepted the two-state solution, the maximum that each leader could offer falls far short of the minimum the other could accept. Livni has said there are no secret clauses in Kerry's negotiating proposal or anything that could trigger a breakup of the coalition government. the In any case, Opposition leader Shelli Yachimovich of Labor has offered to serve as a 'safety net' for Netanyahu, if he needs it to make painful comprises with Abbas in the future.  

David Essing

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