Israel seeks to extend Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations by a year

By Israel Hayom/Exclusive to JNS.org

Click photo to download. Caption: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat address reporters on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on July 30, 2013. Credit: State Department.

Amid an uptick in Palestinian terrorism, Israel has asked the U.S. to extend the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations by a year. If such an extension is not approved, Israel believes it is likely the talks will fail. Israel’s concern stems from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s eagerness to get a framework agreement signed.

Israel, the Palestinians, and the U.S. agreed at the onset of talks that negotiations would proceed uninterrupted for nine months, with the goal of reaching a final peace accord and announcing an end to the conflict. The two negotiating teams, led by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, have met more than 20 times. Currently, there are major differences that have yet to be resolved and disagreements that could potentially derail the talks. The nine-month period ends in May.

Israel’s request to extend the negotiations comes during a new wave of Palestinian terrorism. A Palestinian sniper on Tuesday fatally shot 22-year-old Salah Shukri Abu Latyef, a civilian employee of the Israeli Defense Ministry who was making repairs to the Israel-Gaza border fence, following Sunday’s bus bombing near Tel Aviv and Monday’s stabbing of an Israeli policeman. The bus bombing resulted in no civilian injuries after the bus was successfully evacuated, and the policeman who was stabbed, Rami Ravid, survived after “a complex surgery that began when the knife was still lodged in his back,” said Dr. Ofer Merin of Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

“We are pursuing the peace process as if there is no terror,” Israeli Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett said. “The assertion that the Palestinian Authority is not tied to the attacks is blowing up in our faces every day.”

While May is still months away, and because Kerry wants to be able to declare tangible advances in the negotiations and to anchor the talks in a framework agreement, Israel has offered to sign a document stating that the two sides agree to extend the negotiations for another year to find a solution to the conflict.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Kerry not to put any agreement on the table during his most recent visit, out of concern that a U.S. proposal could be turned into indisputable fact and potentially become another obstacle to negotiations. According to government sources, Kerry had arrived with a U.S. proposal during his last visit. Netanyahu asked him not to present it, but to propose its main points instead. The American proposal details security arrangements between Israel and the Palestinians as well as U.S. proposals for security in the Jordan Valley. Kerry is expected to visit Israel again after New Year’s.

Government officials say the Palestinians refuse to sign a framework agreement that would at the end of negotiations require them to recognize Israel as the Jewish state and require Israel to recognize the Palestinians’ need to form a nation. As long as the Palestinians refuse, Netanyahu will refuse to draw out a future Palestinian state on a map. The Israeli demand is that the framework agreement must include an extension to the negotiations to mark borders and recognize the Jewish state.

Israel’s Diplomatic-Security Cabinet has reached a consensus on several issues in the negotiations, including security arrangements and the Palestinian right of return, but Israel’s insistence on receiving recognition as a Jewish state remains controversial. While most of the cabinet members support the demand, Yesh Atid Party Chairman Yair Lapid believes it can be dismissed.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian Authority official confirmed reports that Israel and the Palestinians would sign a framework agreement based on a U.S. proposal by the end of the month.

Palestinian Affairs adviser to the Arab League Muhammad Sabih told the Palestinian news agency Maan that Kerry and his team were expected to present the outline of the agreement, to be signed by the end of December.

Sabih, who in the past was head of the Palestinian delegation to the U.N., told Maan that it had yet to be decided whether a signing ceremony between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams would be held. But Kerry is believed to be cutting his holiday short in order to present the agreement.

According to Sabih, PA President Mahmoud Abbas presented the details of the proposal to the Arab League. “Abbas told Kerry he would give his response to the proposal only after presenting it to the Arab League and getting their support,” Sabih said.

Without mentioning specifics, Sabih said the proposal includes Israeli demands for security arrangements on the border of the prospective future Palestinian state: early warning stations and Jordanian-Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation at the border crossing between the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. “Abbas told Kerry that the Palestinians will not tolerate an Israeli presence, but have not ruled out an international force,” Sabih said.

Sabih called the American plan an “over-arching draft for all the core issues leading to a permanent accord… Abbas has stressed that he will refuse any temporary solution regarding core national issues, such as the status of east Jerusalem and recognizing Israel as the nation of the Jewish people.”

Meanwhile, government officials in Israel stated on Monday that the next wave of Palestinian prisoner release would proceed as planned. Two rounds have taken place so far and the third round is expected to take place next week. On Monday, five members of the Schijveschuurder family, who lost their parents and three siblings in the Jerusalem Sbarro bombings in 2001, appealed to the High Court for the government to reconsider the prisoner release.

Meanwhile, the Knesset Interior Committee on Monday debated security prisoners pursuing academic studies during their incarceration. “People who murdered children should rot in jail, they do not need to be studying,” the committee’s chairwoman, MK Miri Regev (Likud), said. A representative from the Zionist advocacy group Im Tirtzu demanded that the sources of funding for the academic programs be revealed, saying, “Aside from the fact there is nothing moral about academic studies for terrorists on the Israeli citizen’s dime, it should be stressed that providing academic studies only produces certified terrorists.”

This story was initially published by Israel Hayom, whose English-language content is distributed exclusively by JNS.org. 

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Posted on December 24, 2013 and filed under Israel, News, U.S..