Abbas has learned something from Netanyahu, and from a series of Israeli prime ministers who came before him: You don't say no to an eager, focused and ambitious American foreign minister. In any event, you don't say no explicitly.
In conversations with foreigners, even this past weekend, Abbas makes sure to emphasize the positive aspect of the American mediation efforts. Netanyahu is demanding that the Palestinian state will be demilitarized, he says. I am in favor of that. I have no need for an army. If we establish an army, it will eventually carry out a coup against me. A civil police force, like we have today, will suffice.
Netanyahu is demanding a long transition period until the final implementation, he says. We said that three years were enough. Now I'm ready for five years. Israel and Jordan are afraid of what will happen in the Jordan Valley. Fine. I have no objection that an international force, for example a Jordan and NATO force, will be stationed in the Jordan Valley after the transition period, and stay there for good.
I will not declare my recognition in Israel as a Jewish state, he says, but I am leaving, between the lines, room for creative thought. The UN's partition resolution in November 1947 – Resolution 181 – spoke about a Jewish state and an Arab state that will be established on the territory of the Land of Israel. Arafat adopted the resolution. He reiterated this sentence in his own voice. Arafat may be the flak jacket which will enable Abbas to accept the Israeli demand without being presented as a traitor among his public.
He accepts, implicitly, the Clinton outline on Jerusalem. The Jewish neighborhoods beyond the Green Line will be under Israel's sovereignty; the Arab neighborhoods will be under Palestine's sovereignty. But he insists that east Jerusalem will be the capital of the Palestinian state, including the Holy Basin and the surrounding neighborhoods, and not what the Israelis like to refer to as "Greater Jerusalem."
He has adopted a sophisticated stance in regards to the future of the settlements as well, which gives him room to maneuver. First of all, he says, we'll come up with an accepted borderline. In the next stage Israel will be able to build as much as it wants in its blocs; in the settlements east of this line it will freeze construction. Their future will be decided later on in the negotiations.
He insists that in the land swap the Palestinian state will receive, as promised, "an equal territory, both in size and quality." When he is reminded how hard it will be to implement this promise, he explains that he is not guided by a passion for territory but by the Israeli refusal to realize the right of return. If the Palestinian state is supposed to take in 300-400,000 refugees, he says, it needs territory.
Chance of success bigger than estimatesIn the current point in time, as the end of the time Kerry has set for himself draws near, the game is taking place simultaneously in two courts. In one court there is a blame game – how each side can minimize the damage it suffers the day after the talks fail; in the second court there is an agreement game – how each side can advance its interests in the document issued by the Americans. The chances of success are not great, but they are much bigger than the estimates which have accompanied the talks since their beginning.
In the first months of Kerry's mission it seemed as if President Obama, following the experience of his first term's failures, was distancing himself from the negotiations. There may have been a change in this significant issue as well. One of the senior officials of the previous administration, who visited Israel last week, explained that in the past three years he has left Obama wants to focus on his heritage. He is turning to the Left in the Democratic Party, which sees the achievement of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians as highly important.
The president's support validates Kerry's promises and strengthens his threats. When he warns Israel against a South Africa-style international boycott, he knows what he's talking about it. It's enough for him to say that in case of a failure the US will wash its hands of the process or, worse, that he has reached the conclusion that there is no way to reach a two-state solution, in order to turn Israel, in the eyes of a large part of the West, into South Africa of the apartheid regime.
An Israeli he met in Davos asked him if he was offended by the names Bogie Ya'alon called him. he claimed that he wasn't, saying that during his term as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts he had suffered much worse insults.