Kerry to present framework for peace talks on return to Middle East

Netanyahu indicates Israel would accept US plan with reservations

John Kerry is expected to  present Israel and the Palestinians with a framework agreement which will enable peace talks between the sides to continue for another year. Photograph: Reuters

John Kerry is expected to present Israel and the Palestinians with a framework agreement which will enable peace talks between the sides to continue for another year. Photograph: Reuters

Thu, Jan 30, 2014, 01:00

US secretary of state John Kerry is expected to return to the Middle East next week to present Israel and the Palestinians with a framework agreement which will enable peace talks between the sides to continue for another year.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has indicated that Israel will accept the US plan with some reservations.

He said the proposals were “American ideas” and Israel would not be obliged to accept “every American position”.

Officials in Jerusalem indicated the framework agreement will not be brought to the cabinet for a vote, preventing a possible embarrassment for Mr Netanyahu at the hands of right-wing ministers who remain deeply suspicious of any American bridging proposals.

US officials stressed that the document is predicated on “understandings between the two sides,” rather than being an American initiative.


April deadline
When the peace talks resumed last summer, Mr Kerry set an ambitious nine-month deadline for the sides to reach a peace agreement. That deadline expires in April and, with little sign of any significant progress to date, Mr Kerry decided to intervene in an effort to break the diplomatic impasse.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman revealed yesterday that the Kerry plan would call for an end to the conflict and all claims, following a phased Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank based on the 1967 lines. Some settlement blocs will be annexed by Israel, and, in return, the Palestinians will be compensated with Israeli territory.

The plan will set east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital and will also demand that Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas says he is willing to accept a three-year time frame for Israeli troops to withdraw from the West Bank, significantly less than the period demanded by Israel.

“Those who are proposing 10 to 15 years [before withdrawal] do not want to withdraw at all,” Mr Abbas said in an interview screened at a Tel Aviv security conference.

“We say that in a reasonable time frame, no longer than three years, Israel can withdraw gradually.”

He said the Palestinians would have no objection to a third party helping maintain West Bank security during and after an Israeli withdrawal, suggesting a Nato force would be able to play such a role.

Political apology
Meanwhile, Naftali Bennett, the head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, threatened with dismissal by Mr Netanyahu, apologised last night over comments he made against the prime minister, saying no personal attack was intended.

Mr Bennett had reacted angrily to Mr Netanyahu’s suggestion that some Jewish settlers should be allowed to remain in their homes and live under Palestinian sovereignty under the terms of a peace deal.

Mr Bennett, who opposes any territorial concessions, had accused Mr Netanyahu of losing his moral compass, and warned that Jews living under Palestinian control would be killed.

“If the prime minister was offended, this was not my intention. I respect Prime Minister Binyamin and his leadership under not simple conditions,” he said.