If Friedman Got "The Kerry Plan" Right--No Deal, says Senior Palestinian Official

Thomas L. Friedman speaking on Thursday at the Jerusalem Press Club in Israel. (Photo by Ilene Prusher)

If Friedman Got "The Kerry Plan" Right--No Deal, says Senior Palestinian Official

Given the history and position of the US role, it will surprise few if the current talks between Israel and the PA fail. The question remains, what comes next?

If the details circulating in the U.S. and Israeli press over the last few days regarding the framework of the peace agreement being crafted by Secretary of State John Kerry are accurate, says at least one senior Palestinian official, the ongoing but fragile talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel will come to an abrupt end.

Seemingly based on Thomas Friedman's mid-week column in the New York Times that said Kerry would back a deal in which the 'right of return' would not be featured while demanding recognition of Israel as "the state of the Jewish people" and only a vague description of important boundaries, the official told Haaretz on Friday that such a framework would be unacceptable.

"We don't know what the meaning of a capital in Jerusalem is and how the Americans see Jerusalem and whether this conforms to the Palestinian position," the official, who insisted on anonymity, told the Israeli newspaper. And added: "The American demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state alongside a vague formulation of the right of return cannot be a basis for any outline that could lead to an agreement."

According to Friedman's column on Wednesday:

The "Kerry Plan," likely to be unveiled soon, is expected to call for an end to the conflict and all claims, following a phased Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank (based on the 1967 lines), with unprecedented security arrangements in the strategic Jordan Valley. The Israeli withdrawal will not include certain settlement blocs, but Israel will compensate the Palestinians for them with Israeli territory. It will call for the Palestinians to have a capital in Arab East Jerusalem and for Palestinians to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. It will not include any right of return for Palestinian refugees into Israel proper.

Though the revelations basically follow the well-worn outlines of the U.S. position on the "two state solution"--Friedman himself didn't think he was making news in the column ("I thought what I wrote was already out there in the public sphere," he said later)--the description in the column was enough to create a brief media firestorm given the sensitive nature of the talks.

According to Ilene Prusher, also writing in Haaretz, the column by Friedman, who has been in Israel all week, "was widely quoted as a definitive development across the Israeli media. And when Friedman spoke at the Jerusalem Press Club on Thursday night, Uri Dromi, the JPC director, gave him a 'mazal tov' on the important scoop."

According to Prusher, Freidman "chuckled" in response and said he didn't even think the description of the 'Kerry Plan' needed a source because he thought he'd already read about it in Haaretz and elsewhere.

Beyond the 'Two State Solution'

One final, though noteworthy, aspect of the Friedman article this week is where he writes:

If the Palestinians and Israelis find a way to proceed with the Kerry plan, everything is still possible. Success is hardly assured, but it will prove that it's not midnight yet. But if either or both don't agree, Kerry would have to take his mission to its logical, fanatical conclusion and declare the end of the negotiated two-state solution. (If not, he loses his credibility.)

If and when that happens, Israel, which controls the land, would have to either implement a unilateral withdrawal, live with the morally corrosive and globally isolating implications of a permanent West Bank occupation or design a new framework of one-state-for-two-people.

Given that many observers see the U.S.-backed"peace process"--going back as far as the Oslo Accords--as deeply flawed, calling the arguments and push for a "two state solution" not nearly as compelling as the creation of a single, bi-national and democratic state that unites Palestinians and Israelis, the fact that Friedman--known for his deep support of the Israeli state--is now signaling his possible acceptance of of the "one state solution" is interesting.

Calling such a resolution to the long conflict a "fanatical" one is classic Friedman, but for many Palestinians, Israelis and those who advocate on their behalf for a lasting and sustainable peace, the only just solution has long been that of a single, democratic state.

Proving that those once wedded to the "two state solution" can move beyond it, former British MP and minister to the Middle East Peter Hain made news this week by coming out in favor of a single or 'common state' for the Israelis and Palestinians. Writing at the New Statesman, Hain first offered his credentials:

I am both a longstanding supporter of the Palestinian cause and a friend of Israel. As a British Minister for the Middle East in 1999-2001 I worked closely with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. My record of fighting apartheid, racism and anti-Semitism is long and recognised.

For two decades I have favoured a two-state solution as the best plan for peace and the fairest outcome, one backed by the US, the United Nations, the European Union and all 22 countries of the Arab League.

But then, criticizing Israel's continued settlement activity in the occupied territories and the flawed contours of the current negotiations, Hain offered this on his evolving perspective:

If Israel's relentless expansion into Palestinian territories cannot be stopped then we must face one of two possible outcomes. The first is that all Palestinian presence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem remains in a permanent and ever-more formalized "Bantustan status", islands of minimal self-governance with the continued denial of basic rights, facing on-going pressure, perpetual insecurity and possible future physical removal. The second is that they are absorbed into a common Israeli-Palestinian state with the opportunity for pluralism and human rights advancement.

Is that solution now the only one capable of stopping the cycle of violence and preserving Israel's potential to become a force for unity and peace, instead of a beleaguered source of division and a target for attack? And if the window for the two-state solution is indeed closing, then should the EU, the US and the UK make it plain to Israel that a one-state alternative may be the only one available to ensure its security?


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