The United States fire brigade was in Jerusalem. Secretary of State John Kerry no longer aims to reach an agreement between Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Simply getting them into the same room - and defusing the daily dose of attacks and demonstration of the last weeks - would be trumpeted as a major success for US diplomacy in President Barack Obama's last year.

This is not for the first time Washington is behind the curve, and therefore aiming at the wrong target. Netanyahu is weighing a number of options, but none of them are in the least concerned with "strengthening Abu Mazen" - the poisonous mantra that in one of history's cruel twists of fate - has all but emptied the Palestinian Authority (PA) of its original promise.

Israeli-Palestinian violence continues as Kerry meets Netanyahu

Kerry's focus remains, as always, on winning from both Bibi and Abu Mazen with confidence-building measures, a minimalist programme offering Palestinians more space in Area C, and cooling their passions in Jerusalem.

These hoped-for goodwill gestures are no longer aimed at preparing the ground for a broader diplomatic effort to resolve the conflict and establish a Palestinian state - all but Kerry among Obama's team have despaired of achieving such an outcome - but rather giving both Netanyahu and Abbas an excuse to keep from falling into the abyss.

It should be no secret that Netanyahu and his advisers are tired of the historic partnership with the PLO initialed by Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin more than 20 years ago. Israel laments Abu Mazen's inability to command the Palestinian street and the reduced effectiveness of the Palestinian security services in policing popular dissent.

Resuscitating a moribund system

The unforgiving verdict of Israel's ruling political class is that the PA has exhausted its usefulness in what has been a debilitating attempt to serve Israel's insatiable settlement and security interests while promoting the Palestinian quest for sovereignty and statehood. There is nothing in Kerry's bag of tricks that will convince Netanyahu to reconsider his harsh verdict.

So, while Kerry tries to resuscitate a moribund system, Netanyahu and his security and settlement leaders are thinking and planning for a post-Oslo future without Abbas or the PA.

If Israel's disenchantment with the PLO, Fatah, and the PA is complete, then so too is the view that Hamas could be a partner in the West Bank and a successor to the PLO/Fatah there.

 

Bibi's bureau has scoped out the operational requirements for running Palestinian affairs in the wake of an Israeli campaign to mount Defensive Shield 2 - recalling the April 2002 retaking of Area A cities by the Israeli army and the destruction of the Palestinian security services.

"The plans are ready," explained a former official involved in this effort, suggesting something beyond the typical consideration of theoretical policy options.

There are, however, many options as Israel contemplates its next, unilateral steps that are not as dramatic as the formal destruction of the PA.

Kerry is right to focus on Area C as the arena where Israeli concessions could increase the power and authority of the PA. And that of course is exactly why Israel established the zone in the first place - to deny 60 percent of the West Bank to Palestine while maintaining it under Israel's exclusive control.

This zone is the heart and soul of Israel's occupation, providing a land reserve for the settlement of more than half-a-million Israelis and providing the territorial foundation for Israel's dominating security deployment.

So while Kerry and the international donor community hope to cajole Israel to reduce its grip, however marginally, in Area C, Netanyahu is moving in another direction entirely - how to cement Israel's commanding presence there.


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One option under consideration is "to extend Israeli law and jurisdiction" over settlements - that is, to annex them to Israel. The legal framework for such a move has long been in place.

On June 27, 1967, Israel's Knesset voted to extend "Israeli law, jurisdiction, and public administration over the entire area of the Land of Israel". A simple administrative declaration immediately followed, creating what we know today as "East Jerusalem".

There is a vocal and powerful Israeli constituency who want to annex all settlements in this manner. Not surprisingly, the settlers and their representatives in the cabinet are in the vanguard.

Rebranding

What has changed is that today there is a growing sense that Israel must set the agenda for the post-Oslo era. Israeli leaders now see an opportunity to make a dramatic Israeli move, to shuffle the cards in a way that responds to domestic political pressures to respond to continuing protests, advances Israel's settlement interests, and exploits Washington's retreat from diplomacy.

"If we do not initiate, someone else will take the initiative for moulding our future," warned a retired Israeli military general Shlomo Yanai.

Jerusalem is the crown jewel of Israel's national and territorial aspirations. And it is the place where the effort to square the circle of challenges posed by annexation is centred.


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The contest over Al-Aqsa commands the most attention, but Israeli efforts since the second Intifada have focused on reducing the number and access of Palestinians in the city.

The separation barrier that snakes through East Jerusalem and environs has placed tens of thousands of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem on the West Bank side of the barrier.

Netanyahu is now considering rebranding these areas as Area B - that is removing them from Jerusalem (and Israel's) jurisdiction and placing them under PA rule.

The current unrest has also resulted in a new series of checkpoints in East Jerusalem aimed at reducing access of thousands more Palestinians "inside the wall" - initiating a process of incremental and eventually permanent restrictions that characterised the construction of barriers like the checkpoint at Qalandia that are today part of the complex and exhausting fabric of daily Palestinian life in the city.

If Israel's disenchantment with the PLO, Fatah, and the PA is complete, then so too is the view that Hamas could be a partner in the West Bank and a successor to the PLO/Fatah there.

As Netanyahu surveys the Palestinian landscape, he may see more room in Gaza for a sort of limited "confidence building" measures favoured by the international community - than he sees in the West Bank.

These could focus on efforts to reduce still-draconian restrictions on trade to and from Gaza and even to open Israel to small numbers of labourers form Gaza.

Such measures are far from what a peace is made of, but they are the best to offer from diplomats who today count running in place as a victory.

Geoffrey Aronson writes about Middle East affairs. He consults with a variety of public and private institutions dealing with regional political, security, and development issues.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera