Thursday, April 03, 2014

Arlene Kushner on Clarifying Muddled Picture of Where Israel - Palestinian Peace Talks Stand

From Arlene Kushner:
April 2, 2013

The Insanity Deepens

The current situation regarding “peace negotiations” has evolved into one beyond imagining.  I do not use the term “evolved” to suggest progress to a higher state, I assure you. 
What is more, everything is in almost hour-to-hour flux.  And so, while I hope to send this out today, I advise my readers that within hours of your reading this, the situation may have again shifted.  In point of fact, I had written an extensive posting yesterday, and before I transmitted it, news broke that so changed the situation that I had to table it.
In the last posting I sent out, I had touched upon a number of rumors – explaining that media reports on this situation were so conflicting that it was impossible to determine what was accurate and what not.  Now, we have a considerably clearer – but still muddled - picture.
The genesis of the current tangled situation was a major disagreement between Israel and the PA with regard to the release of that last group of 26 pre-Oslo prisoners. 
Israel had information that it was the intention of the PA to celebrate the release of this last group and then walk out on negotiations and head to the UN and international tribunals:
“Erekat himself stated last month that Abbas was staying in talks solely for the sake of the terrorist releases.”
Thus did Netanyahu call a halt, saying that there had to be a quid pro quo before he would approve that release.  What he appeared to be looking for was a commitment by the PA to stay at the table past the April 29th deadline, thereby keeping the PA from its “international” path. That he may have had other motives as well is altogether possible.
The PA leadership, on the other hand, was firm in its conviction that Israel committed to the release of 104 prisoners, no matter what, and that the last group had to be released with no further commitment from their side.  News reports were that they were very angry.  Furious.  They referred to the Israeli conditions as “blackmail.”
On the Palestinian Arab street, securing the release of prisoners is a huge matter.  Support for Abbas’s administration is affected by what he can accomplish in this regard: for him to fail to secure release of prisoners as promised weakens his base.
Thus was there a “stalemate” – if you can call a hitch in a process that was going nowhere a stalemate.  And thus did John Kerry fly into the area once again on Monday, this time from Paris, according to White House press secretary Jay Carney, to “narrow the gaps and get things moving forward.”  (Continue reading after you’ve stopped laughing.)
Kerry did not meet with Abbas because of scheduling conflicts.  At least that is what we were told.  But it is possible that Abbas simply said that Kerry knew his terms and there was nothing to discuss: For, Monday night, PA officials gave Kerry 24 hours to resolve the prisoner dispute.  If it wasn’t resolved by Tuesday, they said, they would turn to UN agencies for recognition.  
US envoy Martin Indyk (no friend of Israel) and a considerable US “negotiating team” were on the scene speaking to both sides before the secretary of state arrived.  And then, Kerry did meet with chief PA negotiation Saeb Erekat, although there was no word on what was discussed. 
Kerry met with Netanyahu late Monday night and again Tuesday morning.  It seemed that the second meeting followed some communication with the PA, but this is where it all got fuzzy, with the rumors and unofficial reports flying.
The PA wanted the 26 prisoners (including Arab Israeli citizens) released with no conditions attached. Then, if they were to remain at the table (this is metaphorically speaking only, because there haven’t been direct talks between the parties for months), they wanted additional concessions from Israel.
Media sources have been reporting various demands and various things that Netanyahu presumably agreed to. Now that the air has cleared a bit, it is possible to pinpoint several exaggerations. But concessions there were:
In the last posting I sent out, I had expressed doubt about the veracity of reports that our prime minister had agreed to release an additional 400 prisoners, suggesting that his coalition would crumble were he to attempt to do this.  It turns out that, indeed, he did agree – and possibly to 420.  
Originally, Israel said that only prisoners with no blood on their hands would be chosen.  But then the PA insisted on the right to participate in selection, which sets off bells.  On some media sites I have seen reports that Barghouti would be included. But today I checked with someone who has first hand information from inside the government, and I’ve been told this is not so.
The big news was that there had become a real possibility that Jonathan Pollard might be released in mid-April in return for this.  As “incentive.”
Credit: AP
There are US sources who were confirming this possibility, but there was no official statement from the American government. Jay Carney, White House press secretary, said that the president had not decided yet. Obama was weighing his options and whether this would bring political gain.  He’s been hostile to the concept of releasing Pollard from the beginning of his presidency.
What this would do is shift the dynamic and make it more likely that Netanyahu would be able to release more Arab prisoners without bringing down his coalition.   
Was this a good thing?  No, it is a vile and immoral situation
Jonathan Pollard deserves to be released because his continued incarceration is unjust and inhumane. Released, period.  Not in exchange for the release of more terrorists. 
Please see the case made today by Alan Dershowitz and Irwin Cotler regarding Pollard’s right to be released:
To offer his release in the fashion proposed is extortion.  Even among those enormously eager to see Pollard brought home to Israel, there are those who oppose such a deal.
To complicate matters further, there were conflicting reports regarding whether Pollard would cooperate in such a trade-off.  Pollard refused a parole hearing yesterday, which many read as a sign that he would not cooperate.  As well, there are those who have spoken to him over time, or are in touch with those who are, who say Pollard wants no part of such a deal:
Others – such as the JPost’s Gil Hoffman - insist that Pollard would cooperate.  Pollard’s health is poor and, whatever his distaste for the situation, this may be his only chance for an improvement in his living conditions that would sustain or prolong his life:

There are senior Congressional people who are opposed to the Pollard release:
And obviously, there are serious objections to this deal here in Israel:  Much of Bayit Yehudi is negative; as is Danny Danon (Likud), fiercely so; and Yair Shamir, Uzi Landau, and Israel Katz (all Yisrael Beitenu).  I’ve heard that Ze’ev Elkin may object, and Foreign Minister Lieberman (head of Yisrael Beitenu) has said he would.  So it was not a sure thing that this deal would pass muster in the government.

And now... add to this the fact that there is another way in which Netanyahu caved. Reportedly he agreed to institute an eight-month partial de facto freeze in Judea and Samaria, as well. 
Read: Pollard-for-prisoners deal said to be near completion

Unbelievable?  Believe it.  Unbearable?  Absolutely.  Incomprehensible?  That too.
And what would the PA give in return for all of this? They would continue at the table into 2015. 
But wait!  This is not the end of the saga.  Kerry, who had to fly out to other locales on Monday afternoon, was due back yesterday to meet with PA officials in Ramallah and secure their final agreement on these new terms.
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.
Is the fear of what Abbas might do so great, is the hunger to keep him on board so overwhelming, that this penny-ante terrorist in a suit, who has no real political base, and whose term of office ran out years ago, is permitted complete latitude and excused everything???
Abbas, for his part, was playing both ends against the middle – saying that he was only doing what the PA had every right to do, but that this did not mean he wasn’t for negotiations.
“This [appealing to international agencies] is our fundamental right and we will not give it up...

"We are interested in peace and in an independent Palestinian state that will be established in peace beside Israel, but we keep facing delays -- more and more delays. So the Palestinian leadership unanimously decided to join international organizations and institutions. We are not closing the door and we have hope for the peace process.”
Ashraf Khatib, a communications adviser for the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department, put it this way“
"These treaties and conventions will help to protect and promote basic rights of the Palestinian people and will enable the State of Palestine to be a responsible actor on the international stage. These treaties are vital to continued Palestinian institutional building, good governance and the upholding of human rights, all of which form the basis for an independent and sovereign State of Palestine.”
“good governance and the upholding of human rights...”  Unmitigated nonsense where the PA is concerned.  But for the uninitiated, the naïve and those eager to believe, he makes a convincing case.
It is important to note that, despite what Kerry said to minimize the issue, agencies Abbas applied to were, indeed, connected to the UN, and at this point the applications have been delivered.  Some were handed to UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry .

It is broadly understood that if Obama and Kerry were ready to consider releasing Pollard, then they were desperate.  But this gambit is nothing if not cruel.  First, of course, for Pollard.  But it’s also a heartbreak for many here, to so badly want to see Jonathan Pollard released, and yet to know that the price demanded is exceedingly detrimental to the state of Israel.
My own guess is that this will fall apart.  In his recent statements Kerry shows signs of stepping back:
“A senior American official told The [Washington] Post that Kerry has ‘gone as far as he can as mediator’ and that the release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, seen as a bargaining chip, would no longer be on table unless the Palestinians and Israelis made ‘significant moves forward.’  (Emphasis added)
It was now up to the two parties to work things out, Kerry is reported as saying.
Never mind that he continues to babble in public about how there’s still hope for peace.
As to Netanyahu, even now – and in the face of claims to the contrary – I do not believe his goal is the facilitation of a Palestinian state. Had that been the case, there would have been much he might have done a la Olmert to make territorial concessions during the last eight months.
No, I think that our prime minister is under extreme pressure from a ruthless Kerry. But I do not excuse him because of this.  Not at all.  He shows himself to be spineless and ever eager to please and appear the good guy.  In the process he makes Israel weak.
Then there is, of course, this irrational fear he harbors that we will suffer severe damage if the PA goes to the UN and other international forums.  This is undoubtedly a piece of the picture.
As my readers know, with Jeff Daube, I co-chair Legal Grounds: The Campaign for Israel’s Rights.  Just today we met to discuss our approach in coming weeks and months.
That fear of Abbas and the UN comes from a lack of Israeli confidence about our legitimate rights and a reluctance to speak out on this issue.
Changing this is what we are about, and there will be much to say about this in the time ahead.   
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

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