THE BLOG

How to Ensure U.S. Sponsored Mideast Agreement Not Become Another Interim Deal

The fast-approaching deadline to the 9-month face-to-face Palestinian-Israeli talks highlights the sense of urgency and fear that the April deadline might arrive without any breakthrough.

Palestinians, who were burned in 1993 with a five-year interim agreement that translated into two decades of no progress in the talks, are opposed to any kind of interim agreement.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat was blunt about it on January 4, after a long-winded meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: "What Secretary Kerry is doing -- and let me repeat it in front of him -- is not an interim agreement. It's not a transitional period that's beyond us. We're working hard to achieve an agreement on all core issues."

The framework agreement might not be an interim deal, but neither is it a peace agreement, meaning that at best, the framework will be a target, rather than an obligation.

Some suggest that it will not be a signed agreement and that its main purpose is to prepare the public on both sides for the eventuality of peace.

One would expect the framework agreement to answer some simple questions that have remained a mystery.

Will the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean be the home of two independent states or not?

The obvious issue here is the Palestinian state and its level of independence.

Israel's prime minister has long conditioned his willingness to accommodate a Palestinian state on it being demilitarized, which would mean a clear concession when it comes to independence.

Israel is now adding a new condition, namely that its troops stay in the Jordan Valley and control the Palestinian state's border crossings.

The Israeli insistence on presence in the Jordan Valley has received further attention when the Likud voted in the Knesset to recommend that the valley, which represents over one-fourth of the territory of the West Bank, be annexed to Israel.

The Likud decision produced a tough reaction from Jordan, one of two Arab states that signed a peace agreement with Israel.

It is unclear if the issue of annexation will get any traction, but Jordan was in full agreement with the Palestinian insistence that no Israeli soldier should be stationed on the eastern border of the Palestinian state.

Another question is whether Palestinians will have sovereignty over air, underground water, and potential oil and gas resources.

If these questions are not answered in the framework agreement, not much meaning will be left for the word independent or sovereign.

Another area of contention are the borders between the two states. The Israeli prime minister already said this week that Hebron and Beit Il (near Ramallah) will not be part of the Palestinian state.

If the issue of the borders and sovereignty is resolved (and that is a huge if), the status of settlers/settlements in Palestine is unclear. The Palestinian refugees have to have the right to return and receive compensation.

In previous talks, Palestinians and Israelis agreed to allow some refugees to return to Israel proper over a long period of time, within the process of family reunifications.

This leaves the toughest nut to crack till the end.

Previous peace efforts, most notably Bill Clinton's Camp David efforts in 1999, failed mainly because it could not resolve the fate of East Jerusalem.

The issue of Jerusalem has become much more complicated than in the past because of the rise of a much wider right-wing Israeli body demanding to have the right to pray in Al Aqsa Mosque compound, which Jews call Temple Mount.

The unregulated and provocative incursions into the mosque area from the Mogharbeh Gate, which Israel controls exclusively, has increased tension and will make any agreement on Jerusalem that much more difficult now.

Kerry has surprised many observers with his tenacity and insistence on producing a peace agreement in this intractable conflict. The framework idea could move the process forward as long as it is not allowed to become yet another interim agreement.