Uploaded on February 21. This week’s update is 26 minutes.
You may view the 5 minute update this week via audio:
In this week’s 5 minute update, we focused on:
1) The current status of the Israeli / Palestinian peace process revealing secret negotiations for a regional peace plan discussed in the early part of 2016 between Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took part in a secret summit in Aqaba, Jordan a year ago where then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented a plan for a regional peace initiative including recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and a renewal of talks with the Palestinians with the support of Arab countries. Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi were also present at the meeting in the Jordanian city.
Netanyahu did not accept Kerry’s proposal and said he would have difficulty getting it approved by his governing coalition. Still, the Aqaba summit was the basis for the talks that began two weeks later between Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) on establishing a unity government. Details about the summit and the plan emerged from conversations between the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, and former senior officials in the Obama administration who asked to remain anonymous. It was Kerry who initiated the conference. The history of the process is as follows:
In April 2014, the peace initiative led by Kerry collapsed, negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians entered a deep freeze and U.S. President Barack Obama declared a time-out in U.S. attempts to restart the peace process. Over the next 18 months Kerry focused on attaining an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program; an agreement was reached in July 2015 and ratified by Congress in mid-September.
In October 2015, Kerry renewed his work on the Israeli-Palestinian process following an escalation of tensions over the Temple Mount and a wave of violence in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. At the end of October, Kerry was able to achieve understandings confirming the status quo on the Temple Mount by Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan. As part of these understandings, Israel and Jordan launched talks over the placement of closed-circuit cameras on the Temple Mount, an idea that was never implemented. Two weeks later, Netanyahu came to Washington for his first meeting with Obama in more than a year – a period when the two leaders badly clashed over the nuclear deal with Iran.
During his meeting with Obama in the Oval Office on November 10, 2015, Netanyahu said he had new ideas for renewing talks with the Palestinians. Obama, who no longer believed that Netanyahu had serious intentions, asked him to discuss the matter with Kerry. The following day Netanyahu met with Kerry and proposed a series of significant gestures to the Palestinians in the West Bank, including permits for massive construction by Palestinians in Area C, the area of the West Bank under Israeli military and civilian control. Netanyahu asked that in exchange the USA recognize that Israel could build in the large Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank but did not make clear whether this meant construction outside the blocs would cease.
Two weeks later, Netanyahu held two long meetings with the security cabinet in which he tried to drum up support for the steps he planned for the West Bank. But a number of terror attacks at that time, along with staunch opposition by his coalition partners on his right – the political party, Jewish Home ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked – cooled Netanyahu’s enthusiasm.
When Kerry came to Israel on November 24, 2015, Netanyahu informed him that the proposals he had presented just two weeks before were no longer on the table. Kerry, who was shocked at Netanyahu’s backtrack, met with Herzog the same day to explore whether the possibility of Zionist Union joining the government was a realistic one. Herzog’s reply did nothing to improve Kerry’s mood. “There are zero signs of a change in Netanyahu’s policy or approach,” Herzog told Kerry. Under those circumstances, Herzog said there was neither a chance nor a reason for Zionist Union to join the coalition.
Kerry left the region frustrated and angry. In a speech to the Saban Forum in Washington a week later, he was severely critical of Netanyahu, saying the policy of Netanyahu’s government would lead to a binational state. After the failure of Kerry’s mission, the Palestinians reverted to their steps against Israel in the United Nations, including a draft resolution at the Security Council on the settlements. In Israel, the security cabinet began discussing the possibility of the fall of the Palestinian Authority. In Europe, France began to prepare for a meeting of dozens of foreign ministers on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Despite the dead end, Kerry did not intend to give up. With his advisers in December and January, he crafted a document that included principles for the renewal of talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the framework of a regional peace initiative with the participation of the Arab countries. The plan he formulated in early 2016 was identical to the one he presented at the end of that year – three weeks before Donald Trump entered the White House. The following are the six principles.
* International secure and recognized borders between Israel and a sustainable and contiguous Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with agreed-on exchanges of territory.
* Implementation of the vision of UN Resolution 181 (the Partition Plan) for two states for two peoples, one Jewish and one Arab – which recognize each other and give equal rights to their citizens.
* A just, agreed-on, fair and realistic solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees that conforms to a solution of two states for two peoples and will not influence the basic character of Israel.
* An agreed-on solution for Jerusalem as the capital of both countries, recognized by the international community and ensuring freedom of access to the holy sites in keeping with the status quo.
* A response to Israel’s security needs, ensuring Israel’s ability to protect itself effectively and ensuring Palestine’s ability to give security to its citizens in a sovereign, demilitarized state.
* The end of the conflict and of demands, which will allow a normalization of ties and increased regional security for all, in keeping with the vision of the Arab Peace Initiative.
On January 31, 2016, Kerry met with Netanyahu in the resort town of Davos, Switzerland. During the meeting, with only the two men present, Kerry presented the document of principles and the regional-peace initiative to Netanyahu along with a tempting idea – a first-of-its-kind summit with King Abdullah and Sissi to discuss ways to push the process forward.
On January 31, 2016, Kerry told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of his discussion with Netanyahu in Davos. After Netanyahu agreed to the meeting, Kerry and his people began to organize it. In the lead was Kerry’s adviser and confidant Frank Lowenstein, the special envoy for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. After behind-the-scenes talks with the Israelis, Jordanians and Egyptians, it was decided that the summit would take place on February 21, 2016 in Aqaba, Jordan. The summit would remain secret and no side would release details about it.
Abbas did not take part in the summit, but was aware that it took place. On the morning of February 21, 2016, he met with Kerry in Amman, Jordan. From the statements released by both sides at the end of the meeting, not even a hint could be gleaned of what was to take place a few hours later. Kerry ended his meeting with Abbas, and together with a few of his advisers and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, boarded a small Jordanian Air Force plane. They landed in Aqaba, Jordan 45 minutes later.
Before the four-way meeting, Kerry met separately with each of the leaders. A former senior U.S. official said Kerry asked during his meetings with Abdullah and Sissi to show support for his plan. He asked that they persuade additional Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to support the plan as well, and take part in a regional diplomatic move that would include a renewal of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Kerry sought to have Abdullah pressure Abbas to agree to renew the talks based on the American plan, and Sissi would do the same vis-a-vis the Israeli government. The former senior U.S. official noted that Abdullah and Sissi agreed to express support for the plan even though it included recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Nevertheless, the official added, Sissi, who did not want a confrontation with Netanyahu, made clear to Kerry that he thought persuasion would be more effective than pressure and compulsion.
Former senior U.S. officials noted that at a meeting with Netanyahu in the context of the summit, the prime minister evaded a clear answer on the proposed plan. They said Netanyahu presented a series of reservations, arguing that the principles were too detailed and that he would have difficulty winning support for them in his coalition government.
The four-party meeting was highly dramatic. Even though the subject was the regional peace initiative, a substantial chunk of the discussions related to the situation in the overall region. Abdullah and Sissi took Kerry to task for the Obama administration’s policies in the Middle East, both regarding Iran and Syria. Still, the two reacted positively to his proposal and tried to convince Netanyahu to accept it.
The former senior U.S. officials said Netanyahu was hesitant. Instead of relating exclusively to Kerry’s plan, they said he presented a plan of his own at the four-party meeting, which he called his five-point plan. Through the plan, Netanyahu expressed a readiness to take the steps regarding the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that he had spoken with Kerry about in November 2015. He also said he would release a statement relating positively to the Arab Peace Initiative. According to a former U.S. official and an Israeli source familiar with the details of the summit, Netanyahu requested in return to get American recognition of construction within the settlement blocs. In return, Netanyahu asked that the negotiations with the Palestinians be resumed and that a regional peace summit be convened that would include attendance by senior representatives from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Sunni Muslim countries.
According to the two, the prime minister’s plan included the following clauses:
* Approval of massive construction for the Palestinians and the advancement of economic projects in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel has both security and civilian control; advancing infrastructure projects in the Gaza Strip and the tightening of security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, including allowing the entry of additional weapons needed by the Palestinian security forces.
* The Israeli government would make positive public references to the 2002 Arab peace initiative and express readiness to negotiate its components with the Arab states.
* Support and active participation by the Arab states in a regional peace initiative, including a public summit that senior officials of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Sunni states would attend together with Netanyahu.
* A request to get American recognition for construction in the large settlement blocs in return for freezing construction in isolated settlements east of the separation barrier. Netanyahu did not clearly define what he meant by settlement blocs. In addition, he spoke of reaching quiet, unofficial understandings regarding recognition of the construction in the blocs, and even more so regarding the freeze outside them.
* A request for a guarantee from the Obama administration to block anti-Israel moves in UN institutions and to veto resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the UN Security Council.
After several hours of talks, the leaders returned to their capitals agreeing to consider the various proposals. But the secret summit in Aqaba had an almost immediate effect on domestic Israeli politics. It provided the basis on which two or three weeks later Netanyahu and Herzog discussed a national unity government.
During the contacts, Netanyahu briefed Herzog on the summit in Aqaba. Herzog, who was skeptical, tried to clarify whether there was anything to it. He spoke by phone with Kerry, Abdullah and Sissi on the details. The leaders of Egypt and Jordan were skeptical over Netanyahu’s ability to advance a genuine diplomatic process with his governing coalition. The two viewed the entry of Herzog or Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid into Netanyahu’s coalition as “earnest money” on the part of Netanyahu that would justify their pressing the Palestinians, or an effort to enlist the participation of Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries in a regional summit.
The information that Herzog received in March 2016 regarding the secret summit in Aqaba as well as the Kerry plan and the positions taken by Abdullah and Sissi are apparently what convinced him to enter intensive talks with Netanyahu and to publicly state on May 15 that a rare regional-diplomatic opportunity had been created that might not recur.
Recently, opposition leader Isaac Herzog confirmed reports that he entered negotiations to join a unity government last year in the framework of a secret regional agreement that was discussed at the time and argued that the potentially historic deal fell through because Prime Minister Benjamin eventually caved in to domestic political pressures. In those talks, Herzog had demanded a total freeze on settlement construction as his condition for entering a national unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I demanded a full veto on settlement construction beyond the 1967 border,” Herzog, chairman of the Zionist Union, told participants at the annual Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization. “In return, I said I would work proactively to get international consent of sorts for construction within the settlement blocs.”
In addition, Herzog said that he and Netanyahu agreed on several principles regarding a national unity government’s policy on the Palestinians, which included support for the Arab Peace Initiative, building the separation barrier, disengaging from the Palestinians and freezing construction outside the settlement blocs.
The agreement between him and Netanyahu started to unravel, Herzog disclosed, when members of the prime minister’s right-wing coalition refused to acknowledge a distinction between the major blocs and other isolated settlements and demanded that the term “blocs” not be used. Likud ministers Yariv Levin and Ze’ev Elkin — senior members of Netanyahu’s Likud party — pressured the prime minister to abort the process, Herzog charged. Levin insisted the word “blocs” not be used, Herzog said, and so the opposition leader agreed to speak about “construction in the main urban areas.”
But as pressure from his right-wing coalition partners mounted, Netanyahu eventually went back on the idea of freezing settlement construction outside the blocs according to Herzog. Netanyahu said he could speak about it but was no longer willing to commit to the plan in writing. Netanyahu told me it would break up Likud. At that point, the deal broke down, and Herzog aborted the talks to join a unity government, he said. Jewish Home lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich tweeted that the revelation of the Aqaba summit illustrates his party’s important role in the coalition. “We will continue to safeguard the State of Israel and Zionism and prevent entering into adventures.”
Having promised to keep the entire process secret, Herzog could not speak about it in public before now. In mid-May, 2016, the talks over a unity government broke down because Netanyahu “simply reneged on basic understandings we had,” Herzog charged. “These understandings, had they been fulfilled, would have prevented the catastrophe of the UN Security Council vote” on December 23, 2016, which harshly criticized the settlements, according to Herzog. When the coalition negotiations with Herzog failed, Netanyahu decided to abandon the talks with Herzog in favor of having Yisrael Beiteinu join the government, along with the appointment of the party’s leader, Avigdor Lieberman, as defense minister. On May 31, minutes after Lieberman was sworn in at the Knesset, he and Netanyahu told the cameras that they supported a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. They added that the Arab Peace Initiative included positive components that could help revive the talks with the Palestinians.
In lamenting the failure of the national unity government talks, Herzog said: “I worked with the prime minister on a draft of our agreement, which included steps which were quite dramatic, and had he agreed, it would have changed the region. “I wanted to prevent more rounds of killings and coffins,” said Herzog. “I accepted the request of the prime minister because the most important leaders of the world and the region clarified to me personally how much they wanted me to enter the government because they saw that as proof that Netanyahu was serious about the process.” But he started to get pressed by his peers, and he started melting.” Had the national unity talks succeeded, Herzog said, he would have been appointed foreign minister and put in charge of the peace process.
Recently, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted the existence of a secret summit with former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi and Jordan’s King Abdullah which took place a year ago in the Jordanian city of Aqaba. In doing so, Netanyahu told the ministers that he was the one to initiate the summit. Herzog, who was told about the summit only a few days after it occurred said that as far as he knew the summit was Kerry’s idea, not Netanyahu’s.
An Israeli source familiar with the summit’s details said that although it was initiated by Kerry, Netanyahu played an active role in convening it. The Israeli source said Netanyahu wanted the meeting so he could personally present his alternate initiative to the Jordanian king and Egyptian president, and to make sure that Kerry wasn’t taking advantage of him. “Kerry worked on a parallel and competing initiative that included the … principles for renewing negotiations,” the source said. “Netanyahu didn’t want to be Kerry’s adjunct and certainly didn’t want his principles. He didn’t trust him and feared that Kerry would ruin the regional program.”
The Israeli source continued: “Netanyahu wanted a regional initiative that he would lead, together with the leaders of Jordan and Egypt, and only at a later stage add the American administration, and Kerry personally, to the process as a supporting actor. The Arabs weren’t so excited about Kerry’s initiative either, even though the U.S. secretary of state repeatedly claimed that all the Arab states backed his initiative.”
What are the current views within the Netanyahu government being advocated? Israel Our Home political leader, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said: “A two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict must include exchanges of people and land to ensure the two sides are completely separated. I believe that what is necessary for us is to keep the Jewish state,” he said. “My biggest problem is that today on the table we have a proposal (which) will establish a very homogeneous Palestinian state without even one Jew and we will become a bi-national state with more than 20 percent of the population Palestinians,” he said. “I think the basic principle of a solution must include (the) exchange of land and population. It does not make sense to create one homogeneous Palestinian state and a bi-national state of Israel.”
The future of Israel’s growing Arab population is hugely sensitive amid fears it will eventually dilute the Jewish nature of the state. Lieberman has previously said Arab towns in Israel near the border could be transferred to a future Palestinian state, while Israeli settlements including in the occupied West Bank would become part of Israel.
Lieberman emphasized that he was not endorsing the traditional formula of land-for-peace promoted by advocates of a two-state solution. Rather, the Defense Minister says he favors an exchange of territory and population – bringing the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria under Israel sovereignty while transferring large Arab population centers inside pre-1967 Israel to the Palestinian Authority. The Defense Minister also argued that an arrangement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority would only be a small part of a larger regional agreement with moderate Arab states.
The principle of Lieberman’s ideas have begun to gain some traction within the current Israeli government as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presses the idea of an overall peace settlement based on a deal with moderate Sunni Arab regional powers such as Saudi Arabia in the interests of countering a shared enemy, Shiite Iran. Lieberman said that there were three challenges in the region: “Iran, Iran and Iran.”
Meanwhile, Jewish home political leader, Naftali Bennett said: “My solution is to apply sovereignty in Area C of the West Bank (currently 60% of the West Bank under Israeli military control) and give the Arabs a choice of permanent residency or Israeli citizenship (in Area C).” Bennett does not want to apply Israeli sovereignty in Area’s A and B in the West Bank where there is a larger Palestinian population than a Jewish one. In an interview with CNN, Bennett said: “There’s 2 million Palestinians that govern themselves. They have their own parliament, their own government, their own elections, their own tax system. I don’t want to govern the Palestinians, no one does. They already govern themselves.”
MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin (Zionist Union) has decided to issue a challenge to the current government coalition and plans of Jewish Home leader, Naftali Bennett, to apply Israeli sovereignty over all of Area C of Judea and Samaria. The bill would require members of the coalition, such as Education Minister Naftali Bennett, to take action on their statements calling on the government to extend its sovereignty over parts or all of Area C.
According to a report in an Israeli newspaper, “the bill seeks to annex all the territory defined in the Oslo Accords as Area C. Area C includes all settlements in Judea and Samaria, the access roads leading to them, and the majority of non-populated areas in Judea and Samaria. The purpose of the bill is to challenge and hold a mirror against the way in which the coalition operates, with methods of creeping annexation in the absence of real political activity,” the explanatory notes to the bill state. “The government has not presented since its inception any political vision or path and the paralysis has led, inter alia, to the latest UN Resolution, which once again put Israel’s back against the wall.”
”We have to expose the face of the government, which is paralyzed politically, and ask it: does the Israeli government want to control two million Palestinians or to to maintain a Jewish and democratic state? If the government and its ministers support the applying of [Israeli] law over Area C, or even more, to all of Judea and Samaria, it should take the trouble to do so.”
There is a desire for sovereignty in the West Bank among the Jewish Religious Zionist movement. The Jewish Religious Zionist movement had its 4th West Bank Sovereignty Conference in Jerusalem on February 12.
In the nine months that have elapsed since, there has been no progress on the diplomatic front. Recently at a White House press conference with US President Donald Trump, Netanyahu again called for the advancement of a regional peace initiative. “For the first time in my lifetime, and for the first time in the life of my country, Arab countries in the region do not see Israel as an enemy, but, increasingly, as an ally,” Netanyahu said. Addressing Trump directly, he added: “I believe that under your leadership, this change in our region creates an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen security and advance peace. Let us seize this moment together.”
Will the Trump administration be able to put together a regional peace agreement between Israel, the Palestinians and moderate Sunni Arab nations that will include recognition of a Palestinian state? Only time will tell.
An agreement to divide Jerusalem and establish a PLO state is a tribulation event.
The link to these articles are as follows:
1) Kerry Offered Netanyahu Regional Peace Plan in Secret 2016 Summit With al-Sissi, King Abdullah
2) Israeli Opposition Leader: I Demanded Settlement Freeze as Part of Unity Deal With Netanyahu
3) Herzog: Netanyahu caved to right-wing ministers, scuttled regional peace deal
4) Herzog on Secret Peace Summit: Netanyahu Ran Away From Historic Opportunity
5) Netanyahu Says He Initiated Secret Summit With Kerry, Sissi and King Abdullah
6) At Secret Aqaba Summit, Netanyahu Offered Construction Freeze Outside Settlement Blocs
7) Israel’s Lieberman insists land swaps key to two-state solution
8) ‘We need to separate from the Palestinians inside pre-67 Israel’
9) Bennett: My solution is annexation
10) Left-wing MK plans bill to annex Area C
11) Bennett: We will annex Ma’aleh Adumim first and then all of Area C
12) Naftali Bennett interview with CNN
From a Biblical prophetic perspective, the reason why the God of Israel would allow these events to happen is because it will result in the end of the exile of the house of Jacob and the reunification of the 12 tribes of Israel (Ephraim and Judah).
We will to be “watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem” and we will not rest until the God of Israel makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth (Isaiah 62).
Shalom in Yeshua the Messiah,
Hebraic Heritage Ministries Int’l