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Is John Kerry the lone ranger in MidEast talks?

This posting has these items:
1) DEBKA file: Kerry obtains Israeli, Palestinian consent to negotiate interim accord, without borders issue, useful summary of what Kerry achieved;
2) Reuters: In Kerry’s Mideast announcement, hints of success and challenge, bland headline disguises serious article about Kerry’s lack of serious partners for peace;
3) Ha’aretz: Kerry’s war of attrition to bring Israel and Palestinians to negotiating table, persistence wins;
4) Barak Ravid: EU made Netanyahu go the extra mile, U.S. threats left Abbas with no choice , acknowledges role of EU guidelines in procuring Israeli agreement, see EC guidelines on EU funds for Israeli bodiesAngry response to EU from Israeli right wing and EU rules Israeli occupation out of order;
5) FT: Israel to release Palestinian prisoners to bolster peace talks, a sober account, the only one to put Palestinian prisoners in focus;
6) Times of Israel: Press-imism abounds over renewed talks, round-up of reaction in Israeli press, plus cartoons;
7) NY Times: Amid Praise, Hope on Talks for Peace in Mideast, focus on US/Arab relations;

Yedioth Ahronoth’s ‘blasé’ sketch of Kerry dusting off the negotiating table.

Kerry obtains Israeli, Palestinian consent to negotiate interim accord, without borders issue

By DEBKAfile Exclusive Report 
July 19, 2013

After substantially lowering his expectations, US Secretary of State John Kerry was able to save his mission to restart peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians with only moments to spare before his sixth round of shuttle diplomacy crashed.  Friday night, July 19, Kerry announced in Amman that “initial talks would resume in Washington very soon.”

In this exclusive report, DEBKAfile discloses for the first time details of the formula for which Kerry obtained the consent of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and, after an unscheduled side trip Friday to Ramallah, of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as well.

According to the Kerry formula, the forthcoming negotiations would focus on attaining an interim peace accord – without determining final borders – for establishing a Palestinian state in broad areas of the West Bank from which Israeli would withdraw.

Those areas would be subject to trilateral US-Israeli-Palestinian consensus on security arrangements and require some Jewish settlements to be removed.

Initial negotiations will start next week in Washington behind closed doors.  Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and the prime minister’s adviser Yakov Molcho will represent Israel and senior negotiator Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian side. A third US team will report to John Kerry.

It was also agreed, according to this exclusive DEBKAfile report, that the negotiating process would last no less than nine months up until March 2014, during which Israel agreed to an undeclared partial standstill on construction in Judea and Samaria outside the settlement blocs – except for building to accommodate natural growth.

The freeze would not apply to the West Bank settlement blocs or Jerusalem.

The Palestinian leader dropped his stipulation for a total construction freeze. He also promised not to carry out his threat to push anti-Israeli measures through UN and other international institutions during the talks.

The US Secretary also persuaded Abbas Friday to waive his ultimatum for peace talks to be based on 1967 borders. Instead, President Barack Obama will send him a letter affirming US recognition that the object of the negotiations is to establish a Palestinian state as the national home of the Palestinian people whose borders will be based on 1967 lines.

Obama will send another letter to Netanyahu affirming that the negotiations must lead to the recognition of the state of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people, whose future borders will be based on the 1967 lines while also accommodating Israel’s security needs and its realistic demographic circumstances.

The talks will proceed on two levels: The Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams in Washington, who will defer to their principals, Binyamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas and John Kerry. Those three will only meet for direct talks when the teams have tangible results in the bag.

Before leaving Amman, the US Secretary said cautiously: “The agreement is still in the process of being formalized.”

John Kerry on his own at the final news conference, at Queen Alia International Airport, Amman July 19, 2013. Photo by Mandel Ngan/ Reuters

In Kerry’s Mideast announcement, hints of success and challenge

By Arshad Mohammed, Reuters
July 21, 2013

WASHINGTON – When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Friday that Israel and the Palestinians had tentatively agreed to resume peace talks after three years, he did so standing alone as dusk fell over the Jordanian capital.

The image reflects both his achievement and his challenge: few people would have predicted success when he began his quest to get the parties into talks nearly six months ago; yet even as he heralded the planned negotiations, neither was at his side.

In a brief appearance at Jordan’s Queen Alia International Airport, Kerry told reporters the Israelis and Palestinians had laid the groundwork to resume direct negotiations.

While acknowledging the agreement was still being “formalized,” he said that “if everything goes as expected” the chief Palestinian and Israeli negotiators would come to Washington to start talks in the next week or so and to make a three-way announcement.

Kerry’s solo appearance – after four days of face-to-face talks with Palestinian officials and intense phone conversations with their Israeli counterparts – may simply have reflected its timing: just as Muslims were breaking their daily Ramadan fast and Jews were beginning to observe the Sabbath.

However, a former senior U.S. official said Kerry appearing alone might also be viewed as a signal that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians is as deeply committed to the resumption of talks as the U.S. secretary of state himself.

“In a way, the announcement reflects … the degree of investment on both sides and the amount of risk that they are prepared to take, which is apparently not much,” said the senior official, who spoke on condition that he not be identified.


Even before becoming secretary of state, Kerry signalled an ardent interest in trying to resolve the more than six-decade Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“My hope … my prayer is that perhaps this can be a moment where we can renew some kind of effort to get the parties into a discussion,” he said at his January 24 Senate confirmation hearing.

On the first weekend after he took office on February 1, he telephoned both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to underscore his “personal commitment” to pursue Middle East peace.

However, aside from Kerry’s devotion to the issue – he has made six peacemaking trips to the region in four months – analysts said they were unable to point to any significant changes in the fundamental climate for peace.

Peacemaking has ebbed and flowed for two decades, last breaking down in late 2010 over Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, where, along with the Gaza Strip, Palestinians seek statehood.

The Palestinians, with international backing, have said that state must have borders approximating the territories’ boundaries before Israel captured them in the 1967 Middle East War – a demand hard to reconcile with Israel’s insistence on keeping swaths of settlements under any eventual peace accord.

The core issues that need to be settled include borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees, the future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the status of Jerusalem.

Previous attempts by former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush in 2008 and Bill Clinton in 2000 ended in failure.


Some analysts said they saw little as having changed in the politics of the dispute since the last effort, which broke down within weeks of its high-profile Washington announcement.

“I am not among those who see this as a major breakthrough,” said Khaled Elgindy of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington. “I am very sceptical because I don’t see anything that is fundamentally different.”

The main motivation on both sides to agree to come to the table – assuming that all goes well in the next week or so – may simply be to avoid being blamed for torpedoing negotiations.

“From the Palestinian standpoint the objective is not to be blamed for failure of this process, so they are willing to go along, they are not holding their breath,” said Elgindy, who served as an adviser to the Palestinian leadership on peace negotiations at the Negotiations Support Unit in Ramallah from 2004 to 2009.

For the Israelis, entering talks may also avert a diplomatic disaster at September’s annual U.N. General Assembly, where the Palestinians had planned to seek recognition for their statehood claim in the absence of direct engagement with the Israelis.

John Kerry urges President Abbas to cheer up (it might never happen), Ramallah, July 19th. Photo by Mandel Ngan/ AFP.

The scene as Kerry met Abbas on Friday afternoon in Ramallah after several hours of delay seemed to bear out the idea of some Palestinian scepticism in the face of U.S. enthusiasm.

“Mr. president, you should look happy,” said a cheerful-looking Kerry, according to a U.S. pool reporter who attended the picture-taking session at the start of their talks.

Another question that Elgindy, and others, raised was how committed U.S. President Barack Obama was to the peace process having seen his 2010 attempt fail.

“There is a perception that (Obama) is saying ‘go ahead, I am with you, see what you can accomplish’ but he is not terribly invested in the process,” Elgindy said. “The thinking is that he will be brought in when he is needed, when they make progress, but he is not going to expend the political capital this early.”

The U.S. president did raise Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking with Netanyahu during a telephone call on Thursday, one day before Kerry’s announcement.

Obama urged Netanyahu “to continue to work with Secretary Kerry to resume negotiations with the Palestinians as soon as possible,” according to a White House description of the call.

However, it was unclear how much, if at all, Obama may have influenced the Israeli leader during the call, which the White House described as part of their regular consultations and whose main topics appeared to have been Egypt, Iran and Syria.

There have been years when U.S. officials, faced with their failure to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, have told reporters: “We can’t want it more than the parties do.”

It is a question that comes up about Kerry’s efforts, which win praise for their apparent early progress but doubts about their odds of eventual success.

“Clearly, Kerry wants it more than Netanyahu or Abbas,” said Elliott Abrams, who served as a deputy national security adviser under Republican U.S. President George W. Bush and was involved in Bush’s failed push for a peace agreement by the end of 2008.

“I don’t think it’s a mystery why that would be. For both Netanyahu and Abbas, these negotiations present enormous political problems and both of them are going to be accused at various points of … giving away too much,” he added. “(For them), this whole thing is political trouble.”

Additional reporting by Nidal Al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Lesley Wroughton in Washington.

What pose should Netanyahu adopt? Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Kerry’s war of attrition to bring Israel and Palestinians to negotiating table

The U.S. secretary of state ended the freeze through the power of his determination, putting a career reputation of 30 years on the line. Tzipi Livni emerged as a strong force in the government. Only Netanyahu’s true intentions remain in question.

By Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz
July 20, 2013

Minutes after the Amman press conference in which he announced the renewal of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry boarded a plane back to Washington. He was received in the business class cabin of the plane with a lengthy standing ovation by his entourage.

Kerry deserves the applause. Two months ago, I wrote about Kerry that he is naïve, that instead of conducting himself as the United States’ chief diplomat, he is acting as a lone ranger who still thinks he’s a senator, propelled by messianic zeal and the belief he was sent by the gods to bring peace to the Middle East.

Kerry proved many wrong in Jerusalem and Ramallah. The U.S. secretary of state managed to end the impasse of more than three years in Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy with the power of his will. He spent the majority of his time over past four months working on the issue, with almost no backing or even faith from within the American government in general and the State Department in particular.

Kerry did act like a senator – for better and for worse. Despite the criticism it engendered, including from the writer of these lines, Kerry took advantage of his 30 years of experience in American politics in bringing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the negotiating table.

Unlike his predecessor in the state department Hillary Clinton, Kerry became neither shocked nor exasperated by the intransigence, excuses and manipulations of Netanyahu and Abbas. He attempted to persuade again and again and again. He embraced and supported, but knew how to pressure and to threaten. When a door got shut he came in through the window. He would not release his foot from the throttle and in the end he tired out both Netanyahu and Abbas.

Kerry was willing to stake his reputation and all of his political capital. The gamble was great but so is his diplomatic achievement. After such a long freeze in negotiations, and a lack of any hope for a breakthrough, Kerry’s announcement echoed loudly from Marrakesh to Bangladesh.

He was never afraid to get his hands dirty in the swampland that is the Middle East peace process. However, the peril of an imbroglio in the mud or even drowning still lurks. After he moved mountains to renew talks, Kerry has now reached the truly tough part. The lack of trust between the sides is still strong and the gap between Netanyahu and Abbas is still cavernous. Kerry will attempt to construct a bridge over abyss but let’s hope he does not plunge down into oblivion.

The announced renewal in direct peace talks also represents a personal triumph for Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. In the last election she was almost entirely alone in running on a platform prioritizing the peace process. She told anyone who would listen what the peace process was about and why the two-state solution is critical for Israel’s future. This moment is the realization of her promise to voters.

Ever since entering Netanyahu’s coalition, Livni has warned against the strategic threats lurking for Israel if no thaw is reached in the diplomatic freeze including international isolation, divestments, boycotts, and sanctions. The past week’s events including the European Union’s decision against settlements are evidence Livni read the situation correctly and that her part in the government is more important than ever.

Netanyahu also deserves a good word. From the moment his third term as prime minister began he was worked continuously, though without enough determination, to reduce the diplomatic tensions worked up during his second term. He commenced by repairing his relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama. He also acted to end the crisis with Turkey and apologized over the Gaza flotilla. Finally, he was flexible enough to allow Kerry to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table.

Netanyahu agreed to a series of gestures toward the Palestinians in the coming months, including the release of hundreds of prisoners. Over the past four months has likewise restrained, relatively speaking, West Bank settlement construction, a slowdown which will hold as long as negotiations are on.

A big question mark remains around Netanyahu’s intentions. Is he interested only in a peace process or is he determined to reach a peace accord? If it is only a process he is after, has will have earned himself several months of quiet until the bluff is called. But if he is in it for the real thing, he will have to for the first time present clear stances and explain where for him Israel ends and Palestine begins.

EU made Netanyahu go the extra mile, U.S. threats left Abbas with no choice

U.S. officials say unexpected European sanctions move helped pave way for Kerry plan progress.

By Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz
July 21, 2013

Last Tuesday, after Haaretz first published the new European Union sanctions on settlements, an incensed Benjamin Netanyahu called Secretary of State John Kerry, requesting that he swiftly contact European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to get him to ease the sanctions. Kerry agreed and called Barroso the next day but, according to senior U.S. and Israeli officials, he also told Netanyahu the he must consider the European move a “warning sign” for what would happen if talks with the Palestinians weren’t resumed. Kerry said that if his efforts failed, Israel could face an even stronger delegitimization drive.

U.S. officials say they weren’t in the know of the European move, but still, the Obama administration did not deplore its essence or timing. While Netanyahu insisted the EU move would damage Kerry’s efforts, both Israeli and U.S. officials told Haaretz that, in fact, the EU sanctions caused flexibility on both sides, enabling Kerry’s mission to end in success.

The officials said the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas felt that the EU sanctions supported his position and therefore encouraged him to give up on his demand for a complete settlement freeze. Netanyahu, on the other hand, was alarmed by the sanctions’ effect on Israeli markets and on its international standing; furthermore he feared that Israeli public would blame him personally for Israel’s isolation.

Since arriving in Amman last Tuesday, Kerry held some 20 phone calls with Netanyahu, and spent hours on end talking to Abbas. When the latter said he wasn’t positive he could return to the talks, under such conditions, without the support of the Arab states, Kerry summoned nine Arab foreign ministers the next morning, who promptly issued a statement supporting the resumption of the talks. The foreign ministers later met with Abbas and reiterated their position.

After several more meetings with Abbas, the next stumbling block was the Palestinian insistence on the 1967 borders as the basis for the talks. Kerry planned to return to Washington on Friday morning, but opted to add pressure on both sides. President Obama called Netanyahu to discuss Iran, Syria and Egypt, but also to apply more pressure and request further flexibility. After several more meetings with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, Kerry called Netanyahu asking for more ground regarding the release of Palestinian prisoners, and warned him, again, that failure could have severe repercussions, such as the Arab League withdrawing its peace initiative. The Wall Street Journal reported that following the two-hour conversation, Netanyahu agreed to release prisoners even before the Washington talks got underway.

Equipped with Netanyahu’s new promises, Kerry flew to Ramallah to meet with Abbas, and promised him that as far as the U.S. was concerned the negotiations would be held on the basis of the 1967 borders, with land swaps. Kerry’s threat that Abbas would be blamed for the failure to renew the talks, leading to cuts in the U.S. funding of the PA, seemed to convince Abbas to agree to renew talks without reaching agreement on all topics. Kerry immediately phoned Netanyahu, and then flew to Amman to announce the renewal of the negotiations.

On Friday, flying back to Washington, Kerry could finally change his suit for jeans and an orange sweat shirt. He ordered a Sam Adams beer, and tried to wind down after four days of marathon talks, and very little sleep. Kerry will spend the weekend with his wife, who is recovering from a stroke. In the next few weeks, the hard work will begin in earnest. Kerry knows the champion’s tip: get going at full speed − and then accelerate.

Israel to release Palestinian prisoners to bolster peace talks

By John Reed, Financial Times
July 20, 2013

Jerusalem–Israel will free a number of long-standing Palestinian prisoners, a government official said on Saturday, as part of an agreement made with US Secretary of State John Kerry to resume peace talks.

Yuval Steinitz, minister of intelligence and international relations, told Israeli public radio that Israel would free “heavyweight prisoners in jail for decades”, a day after Mr Kerry announced in Amman that the Israelis and Palestinians were close to an agreement on resuming peace talks. The release would take place in stages, he said.

While the number of prisoners to be released was unclear, Palestinian officials have spoken in recent days of about 350 prisoners, some of whom have been in prison since before the Oslo Accords were signed two decades ago.

This came a day after Mr Kerry said that Israeli and Palestinian representatives would meet in Washington as soon as next week for a final agreement on a resumption of talks. News of the release is one of the first signs that Israel is ready to take concrete action on confidence-building measures aimed at bolstering negotiations.

The news on Friday evening fell short of an announcement of the full resumption of talks which Mr Kerry had been aiming for after meetings with Palestinian, Jordanian and Arab League officials this week during his sixth visit to the region this year. However, Mr Kerry said he was hopeful because of “difficult choices” and “positive steps” taken by both sides.
“On behalf of President Obama, I am pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis,” the US secretary of state told reporters in Amman. “This is a significant and welcome step forward”.

He added that the agreement “is still in the process of being formalised”.

Mr Kerry said that Tzipi Livni, Israel’s justice minister, Yitzak Molcho, an Israeli negotiator acting on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, would travel to Washington “within the next week or so” in order to hold preliminary talks and discuss further negotiations. A further announcement would be made then, he said.

The news came after Mr Kerry met on Friday morning with Mr Erekat in Amman before flying to Ramallah in the afternoon for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and then returning to Amman.

Reports in Israeli media had raised expectations that Mr Kerry would announce on Friday that the two sides had agreed on a resumption of peace talks. However, the Palestinian leadership, meeting on Thursday in Ramalla, failed to endorse a return to talks.

The US secretary of state said that the two sides still faced “daunting challenges”, but that he was “hopeful because of the positive steps that Israelis themselves and Palestinians are taking on the ground”.

He said: “The representatives of two proud people today have decided that the difficult road ahead is worth travelling and that the daunting challenges that we face are worth tackling.”

Israeli media this week carried unconfirmed reports saying that the Palestinians might be ready to recognise Israel as a Jewish state – a key demand of the Israelis – and that Israel might be willing to accept its pre-1967 borders as a basis for negotiations, for which the Palestinians had been pressing.

Israeli media had also reported that Israel might be willing to release some Palestinian prisoners jailed since before the Oslo Accords as a confidence-building measure. Prior to Israel’s prisoner announcement, Mr Kerry had described media reports and “speculation” on the talks as “conjecture”, and said: “The best way to give these negotiations a chance is to keep them private”.

Israel and the Palestinians last held peace talks in 2010, which broke down over the issue of Israel’s expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

A spokesman for Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, declined to comment.

On Wednesday the Arab League, whose support is seen as crucial for the stability of any future two-state solution, endorsed the resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks.

In both Israel and the Palestinian territories, there is significant pessimism as to whether the differences between the two sides on issues such as borders, refugees, and Jewish settlements in the West Bank can be bridged.

Naftali Bennett, economy minister and head of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, on Thursday said he would take his party out of Mr Netanyahu’s coalition if negotiations were to be on the basis of the 1967 borders.

Mr Kerry’s announcement capped a week that saw the European Union publish new guidelines prohibiting Israeli entities beyond the Green Line that marks its pre-1967 borders from receiving funds, grants and scholarships.

Brussels published the new regulations on Friday, bringing an angry response from Israel, which accused the EU of seeking to influence the outcome of any future peace talks.

“Israel rejects the attempt by the European Commission to coerce positions on issues which belong at the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations table,” its foreign ministry said on Friday. “Israel’s borders will not be determined by European Commission guidelines but by negotiations between the concerned parties.”

EU foreign ministers, when they meet on Monday in Brussels, are expected to urge Israel to embrace Mr Kerry’s efforts to re-start peace talks.

Press-imism abounds over renewed talks

Israeli media not expecting much by way of results from prospect of restarted negotiations with the Palestinians

By Ilan Ben Zion
July 21, 2013

The breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations deadlock makes front page news Sunday, with the press filling in some of the details of the deal to get the two sides back to the table after three years.

US Secretary of State John Kerry announced Friday evening that Israel and the Palestinian Authority “reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming negotiations,” but Maariv leads off with a skeptical clause saying “it was only the opening shot in a long and tedious race, full of twists and impediments, of which it’s doubtful the sides will reach the finish line.” According to the paper, Kerry warned PA President Mahmoud Abbas that should he refuse to come to the table, “aid to the PA will be harmed.”

Haaretz packs its front page with the headers of six op-ed pieces about the renewed talks, leaving barely enough room for facts about the development. It notes that Kerry “didn’t say on what terms the peace talks would be based,” nor did he mention the various preconditions to peace talks demanded by either side, namely recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, the pre-1967 lines, and the issues of freezing settlement construction and releasing Palestinian prisoners.

The first matter the two sides will discuss is the order of business, it cites an American source as saying. According to Haaretz, the Palestinians want negotiations to lead off with sorting out borders and security arrangements, while the Israelis prefer the core issues — water, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and the right of return.

Pro-government daily Israel Hayom is sure to note Kerry’s praise of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (and Abbas) for courageously taking a step toward talks and reports that “if everything goes as planned, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and [Netanyahu’s] special envoy Yitzhak Molcho will arrive in Washington for discussions ‘within a week.’” The paper quotes a Times of London report which cites two Abbas aides saying that the Kerry’s deal included a written guarantee that talks would be based on the ’67 lines and that new construction would be halted in West Bank settlements, which Jerusalem denied.

Makor Rishon’s top story is that, contrary to that report of a West Bank settlement building freeze ahead of renewed talks, “there will be no building freeze, not even a slowdown,” according to “sources involved in the negotiations.” It also reports that Israel will only release of 80 Palestinian prisoners — “serious murderers,” it calls them — “once the talks take place and are serious,” according to sources.

Yedioth Ahronoth dispenses with placing its reportage on Page 2, pushing it to Page 4, and puts Nahum Barnea’s postulations there instead. He writes that Kerry’s announcement is “undoubtedly an achievement,” but adds that “the way in which Kerry deals with the conflict almost certainly brings about additional failure, and the collapse which will follow it.”

Part of the problem, he argues, is Washington’s involvement, which he claims has historically impeded rather than facilitated Israel’s peace deals. “Washington is a fantastic place to celebrate an agreement; it’s a graveyard for negotiations.”

Despite the oceans of ink spilled in Sunday’s paper analyzing and examining the few details of the imminent return to peace talks, the best indicator of the press’s reception of the news is the political cartoons, which all deal with Kerry’s announcement.

Maariv’s political cartoon on July 21, ‘window of opportunity’. ( image capture from Maariv)

Reflecting its reportage’s aforementioned skepticism about the prospect of peace talks, Maariv’s cartoon shows a morose Netanyahu and Abbas gingerly carrying a very small, fragile-looking object, labeled “window of opportunity.”

Ben-Dror Yemini writes in the paper that even if Livni and Erekat negotiate their way to the arrangement former prime minister Ehud Olmert put on the table five years ago, “does anyone really think that Netanyahu will agree [to it]?”

“Is there a change that Abbas will say yes today to a deal he himself refused five years ago?” he asks. He argues that the time has come for the US, the EU, and the Quartet to put a peace plan on the table and for negotiations over its execution to take place. He says Netanyahu and Abbas fear their respective oppositions more than the international community, and “the two of them are not prepared to pay the necessary price for a deal.”

“You have to believe in miracles in order to think that the renewed process, for the thousand-and-first time, will bring a breakthrough,” he says.

Haaretz shows the two leaders in a rollercoaster car on the edge of a precipice with expressions of trepidation evident on their faces. Kerry, poised to push them over the edge, tells them, “You’re allowed to scream.

‘You’re allowed to scream’, Haaretz’s  cartoon on July 21,  image capture from Haaretz)

The paper’s editorial says that the burden of responsibility is on Israel’s shoulders, and that Netanyahu now has the opportunity to end the occupation. Netanyahu “has no opponents at this time to replace him, and the opposition will support any agreement. Also a significant portion of the public will support Netanyahu if he succeeds in reaching a political accord with the Palestinians.”

Kerry prepares, and conceals, a bed of nails – cartoon from right-wing Israel Hayom on July 21, image capture from Israel Hayom.

Israel Hayom, traditionally hardline right-wing in its analysis, is by far the least enthusiastic about the prospect of renewed talks. Its cartoon shows Kerry setting a bed of nails for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The caption reads “final preparations for the Day of Love,” referring to the upcoming Jewish semi-holiday of Tu B’Av.

Surprisingly, however, much of the commentary featured in the paper is positive. Boaz Bismuth writes that “A final-status agreement is so far away, but the biggest achievement is breaking the stagnation and avoiding the dangerous vacuum.” Yoav Limor says that for Israel, “the road to remaining one of the ‘good guys’ passes through negotiations with the Palestinians, which could have far-reaching results.”

Yedioth Ahronoth’s sketch is the most blasé by far, showing an apron-girded Kerry dusting off a long-neglected table on which stand Israeli and Palestinian flags. [see top]

Amid Praise, Hope on Talks for Peace in Mideast

By Michael R. Gordon and Jodi Rudoren
July 17, 2013

AMMAN, Jordan — In a strong signal that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks might soon be resumed, Arab League diplomats said Wednesday that the ideas proposed by Secretary of State John Kerry “lay the proper foundation to start the negotiations.”

The statement came on the eve of a meeting in Ramallah at which Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, is to confer with top Palestinian political leaders on the American initiative to renew the talks, which were last held in 2010.

Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the Arab League statement served a “double function” by providing Mr. Abbas with “political cover to back off his preconditions for resumed negotiations” while putting “Arab pressure on Abbas to re-enter those talks.”

Diana Buttu, a Palestinian-Israeli lawyer who had worked for Mr. Abbas on negotiations, saw the statement as all but a commitment by the Palestinian president to resume talks. “On this issue, the Arab League does not move without the consent of Palestine,” she explained. “Any statement that comes out of the Arab League with regard to Palestine is essentially a statement by Mahmoud Abbas.”

Still, Mr. Kerry acknowledged in a news conference that while gaps between the Israelis and the Palestinians had narrowed, differences remained.

The Israelis have steadfastly rejected Mr. Abbas’s preconditions that the Israelis release long-jailed Palestinians, freeze settlement construction and agree that the negotiations be based on the 1967 boundaries with land swaps.

So Mr. Kerry has pursued an approach that highlights new investment to generate jobs for the Palestinians and an effort by Gen. John R. Allen, the former American commander in Afghanistan, to define Israel’s security requirements if a two-state solution is achieved. General Allen has already conferred with the Israeli military on the issue and will soon travel to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian officials.

The statement issued by Arab League diplomats, which the United States sought to provide momentum for the Americans’ efforts, followed two meetings here between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Abbas and a presentation by Mr. Kerry on Wednesday to a committee of Arab League diplomats.

The secretary of state declined to provide details of his presentation, but in a statement the diplomats affirmed their “full support” for his efforts and said they hoped they would lead to “serious negotiations to address all final status issues, end the conflict and achieve a just and comprehensive peace.”

The Israeli prime minister’s office declined to discuss the Arab League statement, though a senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition that he not be identified because of the delicacy of the situation, welcomed it.

Still, this official cautioned, “The crucial meeting is tomorrow in Ramallah.”

A P.L.O. official said he expected “decisions to be taken” then.

Michael R. Gordon reported from Amman, and Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem.

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