Framework Language and Jerusalem: Gimmicks Are NOT the Answer

In recent weeks, there has been rising speculation about what a U.S.-authored framework agreement will, or will not, contain with respect to Jerusalem. Some reports suggest that the framework will say nothing about Jerusalem. Others suggest it will adopt a formula that speaks of a Palestinian capital “in East Jerusalem” (as contrasted with the Palestinian desire for a statement that “East Jerusalem will be the capital of Palestine”).

More troubling, reports last week (also here) suggested that Secretary Kerry had “demanded Abbas to official[ly] recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and offered that [the] Beit Hanina neighborhood will be declared as the Palestinian capital instead of the entire east Jerusalem area.”

We are in no position to judge the credibility of this last report. We are in a position to speak on whether the “Beit Hanina option” is a realistic one. In short, it is entirely unrealistic. If it is actually being considered, it would raise grave questions about the seriousness and credibility U.S. efforts in this arena.

To be absolutely clear: no gimmick exists – or can be devised – that will allow the formulation of framework language on Jerusalem that (a) is consistent with minimal Palestinian requirements, (b) is consistent with international consensus on the issue of Jerusalem, (c) does not walk back U.S. policy to the era before the Clinton parameters, thereby wholly discrediting U.S. peace efforts, and (d) would be acceptable to Prime Minister Netanyahu.

“Beit Hanina will be the capital” – or similar formulations that seek to neutralize Palestinian claims in the core of East Jerusalem – violates (a), (b), and (c) on this list. Any formulations that are consistent with (a), (b), and (c) violate Netanyahu’s unyielding position that Jerusalem – every inch of it – is and will remain Israel’s capital. And to be clear, Netanyahu’s Jerusalem extends out to the settlement blocs, to Jericho in the east, past Bethlehem in the south, and to the very border of Ramallah in the north.

Anyone who doubts this view should take note of the opening words of Netanyahu’s March 4th address in Washington to the AIPAC conference: “I bring you greetings from Jerusalem, the eternal, undivided capital of Israel and the Jewish people.”

It is worth recalling, in this context, the fundamental (and consistently forgotten) asymmetry between the starting positions of Netanyahu and Abbas on Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s starting position is maximalist – a demand for every inch. Abbas’ starting position is, if not minimalist, than already a huge compromise – a demand for only East Jerusalem. This concession – giving up any claim to West Jerusalem (which contains homes in which Palestinians who are still alive today were born) – has been effectively pocketed by Netanyahu and others, just as the Palestinian readiness to negotiate based a solution based on the 1967 border – a huge concession – is now completely taken for granted. As such, Netanyahu and others paint Abbas as intransigent on Jerusalem, while both ignoring the compromise that he has already accepted and using his supposed intransigence to justify their own hard-line, intransigent demands.

Whether or not the Beit Hanina story is accurate, the reality is this: there is no realistic, substantive framework language on permanent status Jerusalem that will be acceptable Netanyahu. Any attempt to craft such language is a dangerous exercise in alchemy, pre-ordained to end in failure, and as likely as not to cause an explosion.