Secretary of State Kerry has left the Middle East without a “framework” for a “peace agreement” in place. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Kerry is expected to return next week.
The basic framework Kerry is pushing would consist of Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish homeland in exchange for Israel’s acceptance of its pre-1967 frontier as the baseline for border talks.
From Israel’s point of view, this deal should be a non-starter. Israel is a Jewish homeland whether or not the Palestinians pretend to recognize it as such, and no more of a secure Jewish homeland with Palestinian “recognition.” Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq all have recognition. How secure are they?
Israel’s viability as a Jewish homeland depends on Israel’s ability to defend it. The absurdly narrow pre-1967 frontier , or anything resembling it, would significantly decrease Israel’s ability to defend itself.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has not agreed to the pre-1967 frontier as a baseline for border talks, at least not publicly. Netanyahu’s public position is that Israel must keep its settlement blocs along with areas of national and strategic importance. He has no problem giving up uninhabited land and apparently is prepared to give up settlements that are not in blocs or in nationally or strategically important areas.
This position is clearly inconsistent with agreeing to use the pre-1967 frontier as a baseline for border talks. That approach would entail only minor adjustments from the old, unviable border.
Nonetheless, hardliners are concerned that Netanyahu is prepared to accept Kerry’s framework. Accordingly, they have threatened to leave, and thereby topple, Netanyahu’s coalition if he caves on this issue.
The most important hardliner in Netanyahu’s coalition, foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beitenu party, is calling for a land swap with the Palestinians. The swap would place a substantial portion of Israel’s Arab population in a new Palestinian state, while portions of the West Bank with a large Jewish population would stay with Israel. The Palestinians have rejected this idea out of hand.
Israel’s dovish parties are more than willing to step in and provide Netanyahu with the support he needs to carry on if the hardliners bolt over a deal with the Palestinians. Indeed, before leaving the region, Kerry met with opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who expressed his support for Kerry’s “peace” framework.
However, the border issue may be moot because Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has so far been unwilling to “recognize” Israel as the Jewish homeland. So once again, the Palestinians may save the Israelis from themselves.