US 'Narrowing the Gaps' on a Framework Agreement
US Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Jordanian counterpart Wednesday, according to AFP, for talks focusing on the Middle East peace process and the Syrian conflict.
"We are at an important point in the negotiations where we are engaged with narrowing the gaps between the parties on a framework for negotiations," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
US officials insist they are making progress on drawing up the framework, which is due to set out parameters and goals of the negotiations by the end of 2014.
However, both Israel and the PA have publicly traded accusations that the other side is not serious about peace, and Kerry himself has been the target of much criticism as he has sought to force major compromises from Israel.
Terms of the Framework
In January, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times published some alleged details of the plan, which, he said, will call for a phased Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria based on the 1949 lines, with "unprecedented" security arrangements in the strategic Jordan Valley.
The Israeli withdrawal will not include certain settlement blocs, but Israel will compensate the Arab side for this with Israeli territory.
The deal will call for “Palestine” to have a capital in Arab East Jerusalem and to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. It will not include any right of return for Palestinian refugees into pre-1967 Israel, Friedman said.
Martin Indyk, the US Envoy to the Middle East, later revealed to American Jewish leaders that 75 to 80 percent of the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria would remain in their homes even after a permanent agreement. The agreement will include a reference to the incitement against Israel in the Palestinian Authority (PA) and will also include a reference to compensation for Jewish refugees who came from Arab countries.
In addition, the PA would recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Israel would recognize the Palestinian state, and the two sides will announce the end of the conflict.
Kerry has remained optimistic about the talks throughout the process, stating in December that a deal was "close" despite ongoing complications and dispute over the terms from both the PA and Israel.
For its part, the PA has already formally refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, stating that "the Arab states will never recognize a Jewish state."The PA has also charged Israel of "imposing its agenda" on peace talks by raising the issue of Israel's Jewishness, even as US proposed deals would reportedly force Israel to obligate itself through guarantees that it will not compromise the status of Israeli Arabs, and in doing so begin "earning" PA recognition of Israel as the state of the Jews.
Jerusalem has also raised concerns about the PA's ongoing incitement campaign against Israel, which has led to an upswing in terror attacks - especially in Judea and Samaria.
Despite the setbacks, Abbas appeared to strike a conciliatory tone on Sunday on two of the most divisive issues, saying he did not want to "flood Israel" with so-called “Palestinian refugees” and that there was no need to "re-divide" Jerusalem.
The comments were made during a meeting between Abbas and more than 300 Israeli university students at his Ramallah headquarters. At the same event, however, Abbas falsely accused Jews in Judea and Samaria of committing "murders."
"The settlers are cutting down trees, and wreaking destruction," he said. "They are not just settling our land, they are also killing us - you must stop them!" he urged.
The US's confidence in the talks also surfaces less than 24 hours after IDF Radio reported a possible building freeze in Judea and Samaria, a demand the PA has repeatedly made during the negotiating process.
Jordan: The Other Middleman
Meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh before upcoming talks with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry acknowledged Amman's special role in the region, saying "we are listening very carefully to our friends in Jordan regarding the Middle East peace process".
"Jordan is a stakeholder, not just a mediator or observer," Judeh replied. "All final status issues touch the very heart of Jordanian interests and national security. And therefore we are as interested as anyone out there in having this resolved in a fruitful outcome."
Judeh's remarks summarize Amman's recent entry into the negotiations process, after a close advisor to Abdullah II insisted that Jordan be involved in January. Jordan's security, not just Israel's, is at stake, according to the advisor.
"Jordan needs to be present and involved in all future negotiations," former Prime Minister Marouf al-Bahit stated to al Hayat. "It is unthinkable that Jordan should sit on the side, as an observer. Jordan should join the negotiating table immediately - since it is bound to be the one paying the price of the Israeli and American positions."
Jordan's involvement may be due concerns over the Jordan Valley, an area of Israel being deliberated as part of the framework agreement which lies directly west of the Hashemite kingdom. The PA has insisted on full control of the Jordan Valley – along with all other land that was under Jordanian control from 1948 to 1967 – while Israeli experts have warned that the area is strategically critical.