On Thursday June 27 US Secretary of State John Kerry began shuttling between Jerusalem and
Amman for his fifth attempt to draw Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to the table for negotiations.
Anyone else would have given up ages ago, like many determined statesmen before him – especially now that he comes to his task at less than his brightest and best – much like his Israeli and Palestinian hosts.
Secretary Kerry bears fresh scars from the Edward Snowden affair. After the former National Security Agency contractor’s embarrassing exposure of the scale of US and British intelligence eavesdropping on their citizens, he managed to elude Washington’s grasp with the help of China and Russia. They frustrated the US secretary’s urgent requests to turn him over after he was indicted in the US for espionage, although Americans are divided over whether he is a hero or a traitor.
Moscow has proved just as unhelpful on Syria.
Netanyahu loses top adviser, takes a beating in Likud
As for the Israeli prime minister, he is smarting from the desertion of a member of his close circle of advisers and a beating from his Likud party.
National Security Adviser Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror tendered his resignation Monday night, June 24, to distance himself from the negotiations expected to come up with the Palestinians as well as from Netanyahu's inaction for preventing a nuclear Iran.
In the past year, Amidror was Netanyahu’s point man for talks with Russian President Putin, French President Francois Hollande and top Obama administration officials in Washington. This key adviser now deserts the prime minister because he is at odds with him on almost every important diplomatic and security issue facing the government.
In the first rounds of internal elections for party institutions, Likud rank and file have tossed Netanyahu’s loyalists off the lists and replaced them by an 85-percent majority with candidates for the key jobs – mostly of the younger generation – who are directly opposed to his policies.
The Palestinian leader faces Kerry after losing his government.
Rami Hamdallah of Nablus, an anonymous figure he appointed prime minister in place of Salam Fayyad, lasted just two weeks before stepping down and disappearing out of sight.
Abbas will go through the motions of negotiations, then turn to the UN
Following this mishap, Abbas was reported in US, Israeli and Palestinian press leaks to have moderated his position and dropped his longstanding preconditions for negotiations with Israel. He no longer insists on a prior settlement freeze for the West Bank and Jerusalem, it was said, or on Israel’s consent to withdrawing to pre-1967 borders for a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu rose to the occasion generated by the media with an offer: If Kerry put up a tent for negotiations at a point midway between Jerusalem and Ramallah, he would go inside and stay there until he and Abu Mazen came to an agreement.
But this burst of optimism turned out to be misplaced.
The leaks were a cover story for the plan which the diplomatically savvy Abbas confided to his associates. This plan, as revealed by DEBKA Weekly's sources, entailed meeting Netanyahu no more than three or four times – just enough to expose what he calls the prime minister’s bluff. He would then declare Kerry’s mission failed and refer the Palestinian issue back to the United Nations.
This scheme should play out until September, at which time Abu Mazen intended to approach UN Secretary Ban ki-Moon and hand him the keys to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.
He would explain that he tried the path of a negotiated settlement with Israel, in all good faith. Only after this track petered out, did he decide to dissolve the Palestinian Authority and apply for a UN trustee to take over the administration of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Abbas would then deliver his swan’s song speech on the international stage and declare before the UN Security Council that the Palestinian Authority was a lapsed entity.
With this plan in place, Abbas can afford to be nonchalant about the limbo in Ramallah and not try too hard to find another prime minister.
Kerry warns Abbas not to play games, consults with Netanyahu
Kerry, who is onto Abu Mazen's scheme, has cautioned him to stop playing games, install a functioning government in Ramallah and get down to serious talks with the Israelis.
But the truth is the US Secretary of State is oppressed with much bigger Middle East troubles than Palestinian feints and dodges. Kerry has so far neglected to name a respected figure as US facilitator of the Palestinian-Israeli peace track, but is nonetheless determined to prevent Abbas handing the PA keys to the UN. This would be a stinging affront to his personal prestige after his heavy stake in dragging the two sides together for peace talks.
In the last two weeks, Kerry has held almost daily conversations with Netanyahu to further his goal. Neither has shared their contents with anyone else, except possibly President Barack Obama in Washington and the prime minister’s most trusted adviser, Yakov Molcho.
Even Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s formal lead negotiator with the Palestinians, is not privy to the ideas exchanged and decisions reached in the ongoing discussions between the prime minister and the secretary of state.
How to stop Abbas’ dash to the UN without bowing to his conditions
Our sources reveal that Kerry confided to Netanyahu that, far from dropping his preconditions for talks, Abu Mazen now wants advance payment in the form of a declaration by the Israeli prime minister publicly accepting a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 war boundaries, with minor adjustments. He is also demanding that Israel open the doors of its jails and free Palestinian security prisoners incarcerated 20 years or more – i.e., since before the 1993 Oslo Peace Framework Accords.
Netanyahu replied that the question of borders is subject to negotiation and cannot be determined in advance – certainly not before security arrangements with the future Palestinian state are finalized and the issue of Jerusalem resolved.
Both he and the US Secretary are of one mind that Abu Mazen must be stopped in his dash to the UN embrace.
Therefore, even if Kerry does pull off his very long shot and is able to announce over this weekend that the Palestinians and Israelis were persuaded to go back to the table, with a starting date, negotiations have a long way to go before they get serious.