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New Documents Reveal How Obama’s Middle East Peace Negotiations Collapsed

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Two documents from the Obama administration offer new details into former Secretary of State John Kerry’s failure to secure a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

The documents, obtained by Israeli news outlet Haaretz, are dated from mid-February and March 15, 2014. At this time, the Obama administration was in the midst of attempting to secure a peace deal between the two parties. What resulted was a complete collapse of the peace process, which lasted throughout the end of Obama’s tenure.

The first document was titled “Working Draft Framework for Negotiations” and was dated from mid-February 2014. It was intended to help push forward the negotiations toward a “permanent status, final peace agreement.”

U.S. officials were in the midst of working with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s senior advisers regarding the framework document in January and February of 2014, according to Haaretz. Kerry was preparing to present the document to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after first getting the Israeli’s on board with its language.

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The document addressed the major issues associated with the ongoing conflict, including mutual recognition and borders. The language was clearly designed to appease both sides, but it was Netanyahu’s desire to soften language on the acceptance of the 1967 borders that became a point of contention with the Obama administration. Netanyahu wanted to avoid using the words “territorial contiguity,” and the U.S. reportedly refused.

The division of Jerusalem was also a crucial point, particularly regarding Jerusalem serving as a capital for both sides. Two different sentences were offered in the document, which Netanyahu was apparently supposed to pick from.

Option one read: “Israel seeks to have the city of Jerusalem internationally recognized as its capital, and the Palestinians seek to have East Jerusalem as the capital of their state.”

Option two stated: “Palestinians seek to have the internationally recognized capital of their state in East Jerusalem, and Israelis seek to have Jerusalem internationally recognized as their capital.”

It is unclear which sentence the prime minister chose, but both did not meet the Palestinian desire to have a capital based in East Jerusalem. Abbas reportedly became angry with Kerry when he presented him with the language in February, according to Haaretz.

Abbas’ fury over Jerusalem apparently led the U.S. officials to change certain provisions, leading to the creation of the second document. Netanyahu had already verbally accepted the February document, and any substantive changes risked losing him. However, the U.S. team was under pressure, as President Obama was scheduled to meet Abbas on March 16. The U.S. team went ahead with drafting the new document without the sign-off from the Israelis. The resulting document was more preferable to the Palestinian side.

The March document’s language contained important language changes, including the addition of a statement which said the goal of the negotiations was “to end the occupation that began in 1967” after the Six Day War. The second document also stated that a permanent agreement will have to “provide for both Israel and Palestine to have their internationally recognized capitals in Jerusalem, with East Jerusalem serving as the Palestinian capital.” Specific areas of interest, like religious sites and Jewish neighborhoods would be addressed in final negotiations.

Abbas failed to provide a response to the document when Obama presented it to him, despite the preferential changes to his side. Netanyahu would also eventually walk back on his support of the negotiations.

“Abbas was always afraid of saying yes to something, only to then discover that Bibi [Netanyahu] doesn’t accept it. He was afraid of being blamed by his opponents of selling out the Palestinians in return for nothing,” a former U.S. official told Haaretz. The official noted that perhaps Israel would be more willing to make concessions with Trump. Netanyahu and Obama’s dislike for one another was well-known, as are Abbas’ internal political problems.

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