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Obama and Kerry Spark Speculation by Outlining Israeli-Palestinian Deal

At Saban Forum, the two defended the Iran nuclear accord but gave right-wingers another reason to fret: Is something really going on in the peace talks?

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry carried out a double-team, full-court press at the Saban Forum in Washington on Saturday that should leave no doubt that the United States is in hot pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran – and in an equally adamant chase after a “framework agreement” between Israel and the Palestinians.

In back-to-back public appearances, Obama and Kerry mounted a vigorous defense of the controversial interim nuclear accord with Iran that was concluded in Geneva last month. They asserted, to paraphrase a famous Winston Churchill quote, that it may not be the best deal, but it is better than all of the alternatives.

In a clear effort to assuage Israeli public opinion, and thus allay American Jewish concerns, and thus possibly influence Congressional leaders not to legislate new sanctions that could endanger the nuclear deal, Obama and Kerry described the advantages that Israel does not acknowledge while dismissing many of the pitfalls Israel highlights instead.

Obama expressed his sympathy for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apprehensions but nonetheless proceeded to rebut most of his main objections: No, more sanctions would not have produced more Iranian concessions; no, the Iranians cannot be brought to their knees and no, there won’t be a deal without some continuing Iranian enrichment of uranium.

Skeptical Israelis, Obama urged, must at least consider the possibility that the election of Iranian President Hassan Rohani signals a true pivot in Iran’s foreign policies. It would be wrong, he said, to close one’s eyes to such a possibility.

But while the two American leaders more or less repeated the same administration talking points on Iran that their aides have been disseminating to the press in the past few weeks, Obama and Kerry’s forthcoming assertions and intriguing insinuations on negotiations with the Palestinians were much more potent and far less expected.

Because, if you piece together the details and principles that were set forth matter-of-factly by Obama and much more forcefully by Kerry, and if you mix in a bit of reading between the lines, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Israel and the Palestinians are engaged in negotiating a “framework agreement” that will include elements of a final status agreement but will be carried out in stages.

And that there will be an interim period in which Israel maintains security control of some of the West Bank. And that the United States will play a major role in providing security along the border with Jordan. And that there will be a declaration of principles that will be based on various peace formulas discussed in the recent past, from the Clinton Parameters of 2000 and onwards.

And, most significantly, that Israel is well aware that the reference points for such a declaration will include the 1967 borders, a Palestinian presence in Jerusalem and a mutual recognition of each other’s "homeland."

True, Obama and Kerry did not claim that either of the sides have agreed to these parameters, although both said that “everyone knows” what the general contours of a final agreement will look like. Which brings to mind a well-known and rather sexist Talmudic saying that “everyone knows why a bride stands under the chuppah," but it is nonetheless forbidden, the rabbis ruled, to speak of the “obscenity” outright.

Of course, Israelis could always prefer the completely contrary assessment provided to the same Saban Forum less than 24 hours earlier by newly-reinstalled Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who reiterated his axiomatic belief that there is absolutely no chance for any agreement with Mahmoud Abbas or the Palestinian Authority, not now, not later and probably not ever.

But other right-wingers in Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, who may not view Lieberman’s analysis as gospel truth, would be more than justified to scratch their heads while pondering four possible scenarios:

1. Obama and Kerry are carrying out a super-sophisticated psychological warfare gambit, or

2. They’ve been drinking from the same pitcher of Kool-Aid or

3. They have already composed the ultimate U.S. “bridging proposal” that they will present when time’s up for the talks in April, or

4. There’s a lot more going on in the Israeli-Palestinian talks then everyone’s been led to believe.

Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev

U.S. President Barack Obama takes the stage at the Saban Forum with chairman Haim Saban in Washington, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013.Credit: AP

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