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Kerry is in a race against time

There is undeniable optimism expressed by the Palestinians and their Arab supporters over America’s top diplomat’s abilities

Raed Omari

Published: Updated:

Under concerns of another deadlock in the “resurrected” Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been literally in a race against time, relentlessly pushing for common grounds for a long-lasting peace.

Though this is not really an inside account of Kerry, his direct, or requested, involvement and his intensified efforts in alleviating existing tension between the Palestinian and Israeli negotiators make him an inseparable component of the much-troubled peace process.

In other words, like Jimmy Carter, Henry Kissinger, George W. Bush, the father, and Bill Clinton, Kerry’s name will be attached to a new episode in the Mideast peace process and the Arab Israeli conflict.

Despite the new complication added to Kerry’s peace mission in the Middle East, meaning here the Israelis’ disclosed feelings of dismay and annoyance over what they perceived as a “unilateral” U.S.-led deal with Iran, there is undeniable optimism expressed by the Palestinians and their Arab supporters over America’s top diplomat’s abilities.

Although the longtime Arab rhetoric with regard to the U.S.’s posture on the peace process has been long marked with lament and dismay over America’s favoritism of the Israeli side, such anti-U.S. sentiments– at least so far - seems to be alleviated a lot with Kerry’s involvement. For many Palestinians and their Arab supporters (belonging mostly to the Arab moderation camp), Kerry is “determined”, “relentless” and “serious” about achieving a breakthrough in the peace process.

Kerry’s uneasy job, as he himself has recently put it, has been centered around chipping away at the mutual mistrust accumulated the more-than-six-decade conflict, reiterating that he would not rush into a new peace process.

Issue of mistrust

“One of the reasons for these early interventions is to get right at the issue of mistrust,” Kerry was quoted as telling reporters travelling with him in his third visit to the region in less than three weeks. “I am convinced that we can break that down but I am not going to do it under ... time limits.”

Now aside from Kerry’s credentials, his determination and seriousness, there is in the U.S.’s well-received top diplomat’s openness to all possibilities a risk of compromising “untouchable” peace ingredients which would lead ultimately to a “bad” or “short-lived” peace deal resembling the 1993 Oslo Accords all for the sake of building up friendly negotiating atmosphere.

While trying to keep the two sides quite in order, as he once said, to have the best chance of trying to get something moving, Kerry has been said to begin “gambling” on the two major pillars of peace, border and security

Raed Omari

Of course, faced with the angry Israelis over the “bad” deal with Iran, Kerry might not be in a good position to press the Israelis for concessions as he himself might be pressed to make compromises. Again, all in line with his merging “pleasing techniques” that definitely have deep impact on his political maneuvering.

While trying to keep the two sides quite in order, as he once said, to have the best chance of trying to get something moving, Kerry has been said to begin “gambling” on the two major pillars of peace, border and security, as “variables not constants” amidst news also about his willingness to revisit the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.

An independent Palestinian state in exchange of security guarantees for Israel, or what is referred to in the Mideast peace rhetoric as the “land for peace” formula, has long been the agreed-upon recipe for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Old plan

This formula has been stipulated in the 2002 Arab League proposal (Arab Peace Initiative) which offered full Arab recognition and normal diplomatic relations with Israel in exchange of the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the pre-1967 borders.

The Arab Peace Initiative, which was announced during the 2002 Arab Summit in Beirut at the time when late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was fenced in Ramallah, was formulated with the 1993 Oslo Accords in the background.

The initiative was worded in a manner that ensures the establishment of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state living in peace and harmony side by side with Israel as opposed to the cartoonist state stipulated in the Oslo agreement which ended in Arafat’s siege.

Now this initiative, which gives priority to border and Jerusalem at the expense of other final status issues, including refugees and water, was said be revisited again by Kerry.

While Kerry gave no details of his talks with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week as usual in compliance of the confidentiality of the newly-launched peace negotiations, the president’s aide Nimer Hammad was quoted in news reports as confirming that the “ .S. discussed a renewal of the initiative from the Arab League’s part.”

Revisiting the initiative means making more compromises added to those made before, with indications that the new concessions would be again on borders which would simply mean a new Oslo agreement in the making with no guarantees of a viable state for the Palestinians nor long-standing security for the Israelis. In other words, the peace process will be then back to square one.

Revisiting initiatives

The much talk about the Jordan valley before and after Kerry’s third visit to the region is a proof of the intention to revisit the Arab initiative and also an indication that no common grounds have been reached between the two sides despite Kerry’s marathon efforts.

Inasmuch as maintaining a military presence in the Jordan valley has been said to be a fundamental Israeli need, the absence of Israeli forces there has to do with the Palestinians’ quest for an independent and sovereign states.

For the Palestinians, the Jordan valley is the remaining border line with the eastern Arab state Jordan that can guarantee them some kind of sovereignty for their envisioned state with the Israeli settlements devouring and surrounding their occupied territories.

The Palestinians are aware of the Israeli stubborn stance on the settlement expansions in Jerusalem and the West Bank and also certain of Kerry’s inability to press for compromises on the settlement dilemma and that is why moving eastward to the Jordan valley seems to be their irreversible demand.

Israel’s deputy defense minister Danny Danon was quoted as in news reports as ruling out any security compromise in the Jordan Valley, saying the Jewish state would not give in to U.S. pressure to accept “a bad deal.”

“We cannot count how many times he came already. We welcome him to Israel but we should tell him very clearly – we will not sign an interim agreement that will put the lives of Israelis in danger…We saw what happened in Geneva. A bad accord was signed in Geneva. We will not sign another bad accord with the Palestinians,” Danon said.

On the other hand, Chief Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo has been also quoted as complaining about Kerry as putting the entire peace process on the verge of “total failure” by backing the Israeli demand.

Aiding an agenda

Rabbo later told Palestinian media that the Obama Administration was aiding Israel’s “expansionist agenda” on the pretext of “security” as a means of appeasing the Jewish state following the West’s nuclear deal with Iran.

So, neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians seem to be ever willing to make compromises on the Jordan valley issue which will mean a new deadlock to the peace process or a hastily-formulated peace deal.

It is required from Kerry, so far presenting himself as the godfather of the peace process, to ensure that any compromises made from now should guarantee sustainable and lasting peace deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Other than that, the scenarios would be a “no deal” or a “bad deal” exactly like that of the Oslo agreement which set the basis of a short-lived Palestinian entity and fragile security for the Israelis.

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Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via raed_omari1977@yahoo.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.