US Secretary of State John Kerry has gained the consent of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas for his novel plan to run peace negotiations on two tracks – Israel versus Palestinians plus Israel, for the first time in its history, directly facing the Arab League.
This is reported exclusively by debkafile.
The two tracks will run simultaneously. Kerry says more work needs to be done before a starting date can be scheduled but he hopes the talks can begin this summer.
This formula was designed to address the fundamental objections he ran into in the spring at the start of his initiative for re-launching Middle East peace talks.
Netanyahu said that while the withdrawal of the 2002 Saudi Peace plan, which gained Arab League endorsement as the Arab Peace Initiative, was not an Israeli pre-condition for attending peace negotiations, the talks would quickly run into a stalemate if the demand for a total Israel withdrawal to pre-1967 lines in return for peace and normal relations with the Arab world remained on the table.
Abbas, for his part, told the Secretary of State that comprehensive Arab backing was imperative for him to consent to reenter peace talks with Israel after two years of stalling.
Kerry accordingly invited a group of prominent Arab foreign ministers, heads of the Arab Peace Initiative follow-up committee, to visit Blair House, the official guest house of the US government, for a thorough threshing-out of the issues standing in the way of an Arab peace with Israel. Among those present were Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim, chair of the Arab Peace Initiative follow-up committee, Arab League Chairman Nabil al-Arabi and Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki.
After putting before them the Israeli prime minister’s objections to the Saudi peace plan, Kerry was able to
persuade the Arab ministers to accept President Barack Obama's formulation, which provides for an Israeli return to the 1967 boundaries with "comparable and mutual agreed minor swaps of the land.”
Obama added this rider to accommodate “the burgeoning communities in the area.”
Netanyahu had told Kerry that if he could convince the Arab League ministers to adopt this rider, he would have taken a big step towards getting negotiations moving between Israel and the Arab League for a comprehensive peace.
As Kerry prepared to inform the PA leader that he had obtained “Arab endorsement” for the simultaneous two-track talks, the Palestinians were sending out mixed signals: Wednesday night, May 1, Abbas said the “minor swaps” locution was acceptable, followed by Riyad al-Maliki who insisted that the Arab Peace Initiative must be accepted as it stood, unless the full Arab League endorsed amendments.
Nevertheless, there is much optimism in Washington that a breakthrough in the stalled Middle East peace process is at hand. Vice President Joe Biden seconded Kerry's description of "a very positive, very constructive discussion," at Blair House this week.
According to senior sources in Washington and Jerusalem, the Secretary of State is running his initiative virtually single handed without recourse to the usual bevy of Middle East experts. He accepts that there is plenty of work ahead before he can declare the two negotiating tracks ready to go.