The Atlantic: Kerry’s Middle East peace plan

Posted: July 21, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Israel, peace process, US

The Atlantic this week has a lengthy and detailed piece by Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon on “The Explosive, Inside Story of How John Kerry Built an Israel-Palestine Peace Plan—and Watched It Crumble.” The article is very useful, although it does tend to focus more on the side-deals to keep the talks going rather than providing great insight into the substantive issues under negotiation.

It also contains a brief reference of where the US and Israel were on the refugee issue:

By late January, the Americans believed that their strategy of patient engagement with Netanyahu was finally paying off. After months of painstaking negotiations over every word in the framework, the prime minister had accepted once-unthinkable language. On refugees, the document would promise monetary compensation to Palestinians displaced in Israel’s War of Independence (and, separately, to Jews who left their homes in the Arab world). It also stated clearly that “the Palestinian refugee problem” would be solved within the new Palestinian state. But, in a groundbreaking departure from Israeli policy and his previous statements, Netanyahu agreed to a mechanism whereby Israelat its sole discretionwould admit some refugees on a humanitarian basis.

What is painted here as a major concession (“sovereign discretion”) was in fact part of the December 2000 Clinton Parameters, and indeed was also part of the Israeli negotiating position throughout 1999-2001 [1]. Compensation to Jews from Arab countries was first put on the table at the Camp David talks in July 2000.

In other words, what are being reported as a “groundbreaking departure” is 14 years old, even if Netanyahu himself only belatedly endorsed it. It is also significantly less flexible than the Israeli position in Taba in January 2001, where Israeli negotiators were prepared to offer concrete numbers for returning refugees.


[1] Gilead Sher, The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations, 1999-2001 (London: Routledge, 2006).

  1. James says:

    I believe that all that is written is correct. However, a lot has happened between 1999-2001 and today, including, for reasons that are well-known, the rejection by the Israeli public and elected governments of the earlier stances concerning refugee return. Given the intervening events, going back to some of the earlier stances could indeed be thought of as “groundbreaking.”

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