The last 24-48 hours have been like a crazy roller-coaster ride for Israelis and Middle-East watchers. The Obama-Kerry inspired “peace” talks between Israel and the Palestinians have taken so many turns, upsets, switchbacks and hairpin bends that anyone trying to keep up with the news could feel seasick.
It has been obvious for a while (well, since the beginning for cynics like me) that the talks were going nowhere. They were more of a “legacy maker” for John Kerry and Barack Obama than a method of resolving the Middle East conflict. Nevertheless, the talks took on a rhythm of their own, with the Palestinians taking (any concessions they could squeeze out of the Israelis) and the Israelis giving (relaxation of security requirements, massive prisoner releases). The conditions for keeping this system on track were that in exchange for Israeli concessions the Palestinians would cease incitement, cease terror activity and promised not to go ahead with their statehood bid at the UN.
A bump hit the road when Binyamin Netanyahu, angered at Palestinian threats to end the negotiations immediately after the prisoner release , refused to let the final tranche of Palestinian prisoners go. He stated quite correctly that Israel had received no quid pro quo for the last prisoner releases so there was no reason for the last tranche, of the most dangerous and blood-stained terrorists, to go free. Even the dovish Tzippi Livni agreed:
With Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at a stalemate, even Justice Minister Tzipi Livni – the most ardent advocate of the talks inside the cabinet – questioned on Tuesday whether Israel should carry out a final release of Palestinian security prisoners next week.
Livni said there was never an “automatic commitment to release prisoners unrelated to making progress in negotiations.”
The Palestinians were duly infuriated and accused the Israelis of blackmail. I guess it takes one to know one.They also piled on a slew of extra conditions for deigning to negotiate Israel’s surrender. One can but laugh at their chutzpah:
“Israel is practicing a policy of blackmail and linking its agreement to releasing the fourth batch of prisoners with the Palestinians accepting to extend the negotiations,” the official claimed, following a late-night meeting in Jerusalem between the two negotiating teams.
Israel refused to release the fourth batch of Palestinian Arab terrorists over the weekend, after PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat indicated that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was only staying in talks at all to see some of the most dangerous terrorists released.
The PA, meanwhile, has issued an ultimatum of its own, saying that unless the prisoners are freed, they won’t even discuss a possible extension of peace talks – but Israel has refused to release the terrorists without first securing a Palestinian commitment to continue the talks beyond April 29.
In exchange for the PA’s agreement to continue the talks, Israel had offered to free the fourth batch of detainees and to releasing another 420
others, according to the source. Economics Minister Naftali Bennett has previously responded to that report by vowing he would not allow any further releases of terrorists.
But the PA protested after discovering that the agreement would not include freeing some of the Palestinian Arab world’s most infamous terrorists, including major terrorist leaders Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Saadat.
“Partial settlement freeze”?
The PA also slammed the proposal for not including several of the last-minute preconditions it demanded over the past month.
“The [Israeli] proposal includes a partial settlement freeze in the West Bank but excludes east Jerusalem, and would include continued building in areas where tenders have already been published,” a PA official complained to AFP. He accused Israel of trying to string out the negotiations indefinitely while continuing to build facts on the ground.
Abbas has repeatedly said that unless all his preconditions are met, there will be no peace with Israel.
The Americans were alarmed at the impending collapse of their almost-attained “peace-making legacy” and rumours hit the media that they were trying to persuade the Israelis to go ahead with the prisoner release – and another building freeze in Judea and Samaria – in exchange for the release of the imprisoned American-Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.
Despite the attraction of Pollard’s release, the very idea of such a prisoner-swap is immoral, unethical and cynical. Pollard has served way beyond what any similar offender was sentenced to, (see my posts about Pollard here) and under much harsher conditions and should be freed without any pre-conditions. According to leading attorneys Alan Dershowitz and Irwin Cotler he should be released forthwith under the laws of natural justice and humanity, unconnected to the Middle East or anything else. It has also been rumoured that such a deal is objected to by Jonathan Pollard himself.
The imbroglio was finally resolved, or brought to a screeching halt (depending on which side you are on) by Mahmoud Ababs reneging utterly on all the Palestinian undertakings, and submitting requests to join 15 international UN bodies.
This was such an outright violation of the conditions of the peace talks that even the international media couldn’t ignore or whitewash it, using terminology usually earmarked for Israeli misdeeds. For example The Independent; the New York Times; even the Guardian.
One would think this would be the end of the matter for the Americans. One would be wrong. John Kerry, delusional as ever, claimed that the 15 bodies applied to by the Palestinians did not include UN institutions, but he was wrong as usual.
Even more sadly, it seems likely that despite this outrageous Palestinian violation of their agreements, the “peace talks” will limp on according to Times of Israel analyst Raphael Ahren.
Arlene Kushner has an excellent roundup of the above events, appropriately titled “the insanity deepens”. She is particularly scathing about the reaction to Abbas’s perfidy:
But Abbas dropped a bombshell: He announced that – with full PLO approval – he had signed applications to 15 international agencies, thereby abrogating the understanding that was the linchpin for all of these Israeli concessions.
Kerry cancelled plans for going to Ramallah, and for a brief time I thought the issue was dead. In fact, I figured this was the perfect scenario for Netanyahu: See, he would be able to announce, we were willing to go that extra mile (kilometer), we wanted to cooperate. But look, Abbas has not cooperated, and now Israel must call a halt. The PA has sabotaged “talks.”
Foolish me: Subsequently, both the Americans and the Israelis hedged the issue, saying that the Palestinian Arabs were only playing hardball in order to get even more concessions and besides, Abbas hadn’t mailed the applications yet and maybe he wouldn’t, and in addition to this, he was not actually applying to any UN agencies, just other international agencies.
That is, they were saying that in spite of what Abbas announced, plans for extended negotiations could continue.
This is what Kerry said:
“What is important to say about the Middle East right now is it is completely premature tonight to draw any kind of judgment, certainly any final judgment, about today’s events and where things are.”
It was at this point that I felt the impulse to run my head into the wall.
I know exactly how she feels.