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February 19, 2014

Kerry, Abbas Meet in Paris on Framework for Two-State Solution

by Scott Stearns

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are meeting in Paris as part of Obama administration efforts to craft a framework for what an eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace accord might look like.

U.S. officials say Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meet at an important moment in negotiations on a two state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, as Kerry works to narrow differences over the boundaries of a Palestinian state and over the status of East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as their capital.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has questioned the seriousness of Palestinian leaders at a time when there are divisions within his own coalition government.  Former U.S. ambassador Philip Wilcox says that makes finding agreement on a two-state solution even harder.

"Nations generally make peace when they believe they have a shared interest in peace.  I am not persuaded that the current Israeli coalition under Benjamin Netanyahu believes they have a common interest with the Palestinians in making peace," said  Wilcox.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has little incentive to compromise, says American University professor Hillary Mann Leverett, pursuing instead what she calls a "Fortress Israel" approach.

"There is no incentive for a resolution that would actually give the Palestinians something.  The incentive is to continue to build Fortress Israel.  And part of the incentive to build Fortress Israel is to continue to have these threats.  To have Iran as a threat.  To have the Palestinians as a threat, but over there," said Leverett.

President Abbas is facing internal opposition to a peace deal with Israelis in negotiations that appear less about reaching compromise and more about winning Washington's support, says Foundation for Middle East Peace research director Geoffrey Aronson.

"It seems from the outside, in contrast that the discussions over the last nine months have been essentially bilateral discussions between one of the parties and the United States, rather than between the parties themselves, " said Aronson.

Washington leading these negotiations gives the Obama administration credibility on other regional issues, says Hillary Mann Leverett.

"Strategically for the United States it allows other countries like the Saudis, like the Egyptians to partner with us in ways that would otherwise be impossible for them.  Because if we were just supporting what the Israelis are doing in the West Bank and Gaza, King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia could not give Secretary of State Kerry the time of day," she said.

While in the French capital Wednesday, Kerry also discussed the Middle East peace process with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, who said "all final status issues touch the very heart of Jordanian interests."