(Washington, D.C.) — What are the prospects of an actual Israeli-Palestinian peace deal in 2014?
There are no shortage of reports coming out of the region saying the talks are going nowhere and are about to collapse. Maybe those rumors will prove accurate. But what if they prove to be a smoke screen to hide the fact that the two sides are inching closer to a deal?
One thing is certain is that Israeli and Jordanian officials are engaging each other at the highest possible level to make sure that if a deal is struck — and that’s still a big “if” — the security concerns of both sides will be fully and properly factored in.
To that end, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah II huddled for several hours in a previously unannounced meeting in Amman. Together, they discussed the latest developments in the peace process and how to handle some of the most sensitive security issues.
* How can Israel and Jordan make sure the Jordan River valley does not become a safe haven for terrorists?
* How can Israel and Jordan make sure that the Palestinian state, should there be one, doesn’t become a militarized and hostile state that could threaten its neighbors?
* Is it possible that a future Palestinian state could form some form of confederation with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan whereby the Jordanians had some measure of influence over and responsibility for overall security? (this was an idea first floated by the late-King Hussein, was embraced by some Israeli officials, dismissed by most Palestinian leaders, and remains an idea that, while controversy, remains in play.)
I’ll write more on these issues in the weeks ahead. For now, here is some of the coverage of today’s meeting between Netanyahu and the King.
“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an unannounced visit to neighbouring Jordan on Thursday for talks with King Abdullah II on the Middle East peace process, palace officials said,” reports Agence France Presse. “The rare meeting in Amman comes as US Secretary of State John Kerry presses Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework to guide peace talks forward.”
“King Abdullah and Netanyahu discussed peace process developments in light of the current US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinians peace negotiations,” a palace statement said.
AFP noted that the palace statement said the meeting “seeks to make sure a progress in the peace talks would meet Palestinian aspirations and at the same time protect Jordanian interests, particularly final status issues at this critical stage.” It add that the king told Netanyahu, “Jordan’s interests top our priorities.” Abdullah urged Israel and the Palestinians to “seize the current opportunity and intensified efforts by Kerry to achieve tangible progress… and create the suitable atmosphere for the success of peace negotiations,” the statement said. It added that Netanyahu “briefed the king on the track of peace talks as well as US efforts.”
“Netanyahu’s last visit to Jordan was in February last year,” reported AFP.
“Jerusalem will take Jordan’s security interests into consideration in any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured Jordan’s King Abdullah on Thursday,” reports Haaretz. “Netanyahu returned to Jerusalem early Thursday afternoon, after meeting with the king at his palace in Amman. Netanyahu’s office did not announce the visit prior to his return to Israel.”
“The prime minister emphasized the important role Jordan, under the leadership of King Abdullah, plays in the efforts to achieve a peace agreement with the Palestinians,” said a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, noted Haaretz. “The prime minister stressed that Israel has placed an emphasis on security arrangements, including Jordanian interests, in any future agreement,” adding that any deal would take into consideration the peace treaty signed between Israel and Jordan 20 years ago.
The article further noted:
- Netanyahu was in Amman for closed-door talks with the king on the latest about the latest “developments in the peace process” brokered by the United States.
- Netanyahu made at least three similar visits to Jordan last year.
- Jordan maintains cordial relations with Israel under a peace treaty signed in 1994 — one of only two signed agreements the Jewish state has with an Arab country.
- A number of former Jordanian officials have expressed concern that an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians could harm vital Jordanian interests. Jordan, for instance, has been reportedly concerned over security arrangements in the West Bank after an Israeli withdrawal, fearing it might be harmed by an upsurge in terrorism were the IDF to completely vacate the area; Israel demands that the IDF remain deployed along the West Bank-Jordan border even after a peace treaty is reached, the PA rejects the demand, and the US has been trying to find a compromise.
- The London-based daily Al-Hayat further reported on Thursday that conservative Jordan politicians understand a framework agreement being drafted by the US as abrogating the Palestinian “right of return,” therefore necessitating the granting of permanent citizenship to some 2 million Palestinians currently residing in Jordan.
- The details of the framework deal, which is being pushed by US Secretary of State John Kerry, have yet to be released to the media.
- Samir Rifa’i, a conservative former prime minister, reportedly told Jordanian politicians he was worried that the negotiations “may result in decisions that will not serve the Palestinian cause.” His father, former prime minister Zeid Rifa’i, seemed less worried, reported Al-Hayat, opining that Kerry’s efforts to reach an agreement “will not succeed.”
- In order to quell Jordanian concerns, Abbas recently sent Fatah official Abbas Zaki to hold talks with conservative Jordanian officials, including former ambassador to Israel Ma’arouf Bakhit and Senate speaker Abdul Ra’uf Rawabdeh.
In a particularly interesting of its article, the Times reported that:
- According to a report Thursday on Army Radio, Netanyahu has been seeking to define a fourth bloc of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, in the vicinity of Beit El, that Israel would retain in any future agreement with the Palestinians.
- The report, which cited an unnamed senior Israeli official involved in the negotiations, harked back to previous reports that the Israeli negotiating team has brought up the option of renting or purchasing land from the Palestinian Authority. The older reports did not specify which swaths of land Israel would seek to retain.
- While discussing the Beit El bloc issue in the past with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Netanyahu reportedly highlighted the Jewish people’s biblical claim — Beit El is named for the site where Jacob is said to have dreamt of a ladder to heaven while fleeing from his brother, Esau. Netanyahu further explained to Kerry that Beit El was considered sacred, as according to the Bible it had for some years been home to the the Ark of the Covenant.
- Earlier this month, Netanyahu reportedly offered to cede most Israeli settlements in the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority on the condition that Israel would be allowed to enter into a long-term lease for the land, thereby avoiding the eviction of hundreds of thousands of settlers.
- Under such a deal, Israel would essentially pay for the right to remain in the West Bank for some 40 years.
- The Palestinian negotiating team is said to have rejected the offer, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has publicly ridiculed the notion.