Israel Braces for U.S. Pressure on Peace Process

YERUSHALAYIM -

On the eve of Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Israel, it emerged Monday that on the agenda of his seven-hour meeting in Rome two weeks ago with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was a new American Mideast peace plan, to be unveiled in January.

Meretz chairman Zahava Gal-On disclosed on Monday that senior Palestinian, American and Arab sources informed her of the pending U.S. initiative to break the stalemate in negotiations.

Another diplomatic source said there is no new “peace plan” in the offing, but what is essentially a bridging proposal that Kerry is thinking of submitting to the two sides if there is no progress by January.

According to this source, this American proposal will serve as a basis for dramatically narrowing the gaps between the sides and paving the way for an agreement on a set of general principles for a permanent arrangement — for example, borders based on the 1967 lines with land swaps.

“The American bridging proposal is merely an option, and it will be presented only if the sides make no progress by January,” the official said.

A senior diplomatic source told Haaretz that Israel is prepared to examine any proposal that protects the State of Israel’s vital security interests.”

Later in the day, Netanyahu told a Likud-Beiteinu faction meeting that Israel would examine any proposal presented during the negotiations with the Palestinians, “but we won’t accept any external dictates and no pressure will help.”

Netanyahu made the comment in response to Interior Minister Gideon Saar’s statement that the Palestinians are toughening their negotiating stance in the hope that when the talks fail, outside parties will then move to impose an arrangement on Israel. “We must make it clear right now that efforts to circumvent the negotiations will fail,” Saar said.

During the Likud meeting, Netanyahu sounded pessimistic: “I don’t see that there’s been any change in the Palestinian position since 1993,” he said.

Kerry is due to arrive in Israel Tuesday night and will meet Wednesday with Netanyahu and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.