Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat—US President Barack Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are scheduled to meet in Washington on Monday to discuss a number of issues related to the Palestinian–Israeli peace process.
The meeting is expected to discuss complex issues related to the “framework agreement” being prepared by the US government in the hopes that it will pave the way for a peace agreement to end the Arab–Israeli conflict.
Abbas’ visit is one of the crucial meetings in line with the efforts of US Secretary of State John Kerry to strike an Israeli–Palestinian accord before the self-imposed deadline of April 29.
Kerry is currently considering an extension of the negotiations following what is increasingly seen as the likely failure to reach a comprehensive agreement within the next five weeks.
Abbas’ visit to Washington is expected to be decisive in identifying the Palestinian position on the framework agreement. It will also be an opportunity for Abbas to consult with Obama following the latter’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House earlier this month.
Prior to the Abbas’s visit, the White House issued a statement which said: “The President looks forward to reviewing with President Abbas the progress in the Israeli–Palestinian negotiations. They will also discuss our continuing effort to work cooperatively to strengthen the institutions that can support the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
US officials involved in the negotiations refused to comment on their progress, with Kerry saying from the outset that he was the only person authorized to discuss the issue, in a bid to prevent details leaking out and endangering the talks.
One of the sensitive issues the framework agreement reportedly seeks to address is the recognition of Israel’s national identity as a Jewish state. Palestinian negotiators say they will not accept such a move, while American officials continue to search for a formula acceptable to both sides.
Other fundamental issues such as the issue of Palestinian refugees and their right of return, the security situation of the Jordan Valley, and the issue of possible exchanges of territory, are still under discussion.
The shape of the framework agreement has yet to be decided. There are expectations in Washington that the agreement may not be in the form of a written public document, but a “series of principles” agreed upon by both sides.
There are also ongoing efforts by the Obama administration to lower the expectations in regards to the agreement, likely in response to fears that failure to produce a comprehensive document will lead to the whole process being written off.
Nonetheless, Asharq Al-Awsat has learnt that key American officials remain determined to push the process forwards, including Kerry himself, who remains intent on continuing with the negotiations, and is expected to find a way to keep both parties at the table even if the first stage results were very limited.
Also, the US Special Envoy for the Israel–Palestinian talks, Martin Indyk, has continued to study a number of elements during this period to support the course of the negotiations, including preparing the climate for both Palestinian and Israeli people to accept inevitable concessions to achieve peace, in addition to communicating with Arab and international public opinion to support the political approach despite the unpopularity of the American proposals for both sides.
Following Abbas’ visit to Washington, there are other important dates which will indicate the possibility of the continuation of the negotiations, including the release of the fourth group of Palestinian detainees from Israeli prisons at the end of this month. While Israel is trying to withdraw from the obligation to release some of the 104 prisoners it previously announced it would free, Abbas continues to insist on their release to continue negotiating.
Arab sources linked to the peace process say that the release of the prisoners is a fundamental issue for Abbas to agree to continue the negotiations, which will be confirmed by the US administration.
Abbas is also expected to reject any Israeli efforts to deploy Israeli forces in the Jordan Valley as part of any agreement. American officials are believed to be exploring proposals for joint Israeli–Palestinian and international forces during a transitional period as a compromise.