Opinion: Kerry seeking framework for peace

January 31, 2014


— For Secretary of State John Kerry, diplomacy has centered on what might be called the art of the interim deal. He has tackled two of the world’s toughest issues — the Iranian nuclear program and the Israeli-Palestinian problem — and has fashioned tentative formulas outlining the shape of a final accord even though the parties are far from such comprehensive settlements.

Kerry’s tool has been the “framework agreement.” He seeks to bring the parties together on an initial document that frames the issues and sweetens the bargaining with confidence-building measures. When Kerry hits impasses, he can turn to rollover agreements that extend the discussions for another six or nine months while the participants try to crack the final-status issues.

Kerry has used this phased approach in his two ambitious diplomatic campaigns over the past year. In November, he brokered an interim agreement with Iran in Geneva that froze that country’s nuclear program for six months while the parties attempt a permanent deal. Both Iranians and Americans privately doubt a final pact can be reached in that time frame, but if good-faith bargaining continues, Iran and the P5+1 group may agree to extend the interim freeze another six months. The U.S. has officially been mum on any such extension.

Kerry is trying something similar on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, which for a generation has been the diplomatic world’s version of “Mission Impossible.” Kerry got the two sides to agree last July to open negotiations and make friendly gestures. Now, with his nine-month window set to close in April, Kerry is drafting an interim framework agreement for this problem, too.

President Obama stayed in the background on both sets of negotiations last year, but he cited them in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night. Fair enough: Obama made Iran and the Palestinian issue priorities when he took office in 2009. He got burned politically on both during his first term. But he has found in Kerry a secretary of state who was willing to embark on what were widely viewed initially as diplomatic suicide missions. 

Both issues may still prove insoluble: Listening to Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett at a conference here Tuesday, it was clear how vehemently the right-wing settlers’ movement he represents would oppose a Palestinian state. “Our forefathers and ancestors and our descendants will never forgive an Israeli leader who gives away our land and divides our capital,” Bennett said, his voice almost a shout. 

Yet the prospect of a framework agreement, of the sort Kerry is seeking, seemed tantalizingly close in comments by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the gathering, which was sponsored by the Institute for National Security Studies.

Netanyahu told the conference that the U.S. was compiling a document that would summarize the points that have emerged during the months of secret Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. He said that Israel might agree to further talks under this framework, while not accepting all the U.S. ideas, as long as the Palestinians agree to a demilitarized state that guarantees Israel’s security and accepts Israel’s status as a homeland for the Jewish people.

Abbas said in televised remarks to the conference that he might be willing to accept a phased, three-year Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and continued presence by other military forces, as ways of satisfying Netanyahu’s security concerns. Amos Yadlin, a retired chief of Israeli military intelligence who heads the institute that hosted the conference, described Kerry’s goal: “It’s a framework agreement, or an agreement on a framework, or an American piece of paper,” he said, but the aim was to roll forward the negotiations for another nine months.

The White House has backed Kerry’s attempt to pull together the parameters that have emerged in the negotiations, rather than simply striving for another round of confidence-building measures, such as Israeli releases of Palestinian prisoners and Abbas’ restraint from taking his case for a Palestinian state to the United Nations. As in the Iran negotiations, a framework agreement would patch over what are still wide differences on a permanent, final-status agreement. But they would reduce the risk of outright conflict while diplomacy continues.

Obama and Kerry argue that diplomatic engagement should be seen as a sign of continuing American engagement in the Middle East, rather than as part of U.S. withdrawal. That’s true, but it’s also a strategy for buying time. The success of this approach requires that the interim version becomes permanent — which is still a very long bet in both cases. 

— David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Ron Holzwarth 2 months, 2 weeks ago

These are portions of two comments that I made on this forum in the past, and I believe they are applicable to this discussion:

February 17, 2012
"The first thing you need to understand about another culture is that you cannot understand it."

July 17, 2013
"I don't believe it's possible to understand a foreign culture very well at all, unless a person has lived in it for quite some time, and accepts its values."


Joshua Myers 2 months, 2 weeks ago

"John Kerry should insist that all Americans of anything other than Native American decent give up North America and go home, since North America belongs to the Natives. But I have heard no calls for that." RH

Great point. I've often thought that the Israeli state was similar to the colonial theft of Native American lands. To me there are a lot of paralles between the Native Americans and the Palistinians. Confiscation of land. Marginalization of the race. Less rights and privledges.

The US is in no position to lecture anyone on what is moral and right about the appropriation of land. We have zero credibility.

If a two state solution is the answer can we at least go back to the 1947 boundries? What can be said about the Lehi and it's terrorist tactics and placement of personnel in Israeli politics?

Name this quote from 1948: "Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the "Freedom Party" (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine."


Ron Holzwarth 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Friendly gesture: Releasing murderers from prison. Yet, Secretary of State John Kerry has not made made an offer to release Charles Manson from prison as a reciprocal gesture. The Palestinians have no prisoners to release, because they're dead.

The original inhabitants of Judea and Samaria from over 2,500 years ago apparently have no rights, because the Arabs, who have been there only since the year 800 or so, claim the land is all theirs. Why isn't Jordan required to make any compromises? They took 77% of Palestine to form their country! And, Jordan illegally occupied the West Bank for 19 years with no international mention at all. And, Egypt illegally occupied the Gaza Strip for 19 years also, but the Arabs had no problem with that.

An interesting quote:
“Why is it that on June 4, 1967 I was a Jordanian and overnight I became a 'Palestinian'? We did not particularly mind Jordanian rule. The teaching of the destruction of Israel was a definite part of the curriculum, but we considered ourselves Jordanian until the Jews returned to Jerusalem. Then all of a sudden we were 'Palestinians.' They (Arabs) removed the star from the Jordanian flag and all at once we had a 'Palestinian' flag.”

“When I finally realized the lies and myths I was taught, it is my duty as a righteous person to speak out”.
- Walid Shoebat, a former PLO terrorist

John Kerry should insist that all Americans of anything other than Native American decent give up North America and go home, since North America belongs to the Natives. But I have heard no calls for that.

But, it is possible that a fair agreement will be reached. I tend to doubt that, because of what is happening in Syria. Why isn't that one of the "world’s toughest issues?"

I can answer that question. It's because Israel is not involved. If Muslims kill each other over sectarian issues that are beyond the understanding of Western minds, that's fine with other Arabs. That's nothing new, it's been going on since the Sunni-Shi'ite split in about the year 800.

The United States' viewpoint is colored by viewing a Middle Ages mindset from a 21st century viewpoint. We just don't understand it.

There is a parallel in Western history, and that's the Crusades, the Inquisitions, and other horrifying actions taken in the name of the Holy Catholic Church, which represented the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But The Truth to most Westerners. But, the Reformation mostly ended those atrocities in the 16th century, although the lingering effects of it, such as slavery, continued for hundreds of years after that.

I have hope, though. One of my Facebook friends is working on the Reformation of the Islamic faith, and if she and other like minded individuals are successful, Islam will gain its rightful reputation as a mighty force for world peace.


Abdu Omar 2 months, 2 weeks ago

So Israelis go to the wailing wall and pray that these negotiations fail. "We don't want peace", they cry! Is this the way to try to solve an ongoing problem that killed millions and left both sides with nothing? When will people see that the Jewish homeland is not attainable because these people are imposters? They may call themselves Jews but do Jews really want to pray for more war, for more bombings, more bulldozing homes, shooting inhabitants (including children) and keep this terrible costly (to Americans) debacle from coming to an end? Is this really a Jewish prayer? I am sickened to believe that anyone would pray for more war!!


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