Friday, October 28, 2011

Mideast Media Sampler 10/28/2011

From DG:
1) A brief history of prisoner releases

While the trade of 1047 Palestinian prisoners wasn't, strictly speaking, a prisoner release, Ethan Bronner of the New York Times wrote, when he reported that a deal had been reached:

He said he had told his negotiators to hold the talks “under the guidelines important to Israel: the need to bring Gilad home and the need to keep Israel’s citizens safe.”

For Palestinians, the plight of thousands of their sons in Israeli prisons has been equally traumatic, and the possibility of their release drew enormous attention. 
First of all the equivalence between Shalit and the Palestinians released is outrageous. Among other things the Palestinians currently in Israeli jails were convicted of crimes, of varying severity up to multiple counts of murder. Still Bronner asserted that the incarceration Palestinian prisoners in Israel was "traumatic," so the question is how did this "plight" come to be.

In Annex VII of the Israeli Palestinian Interim Agreement (Oslo II) the conditions for prisoner releases were specified.
2. The following categories of detainees and/or prisoners will be included in the abovementioned releases:
a. all female detainees and prisoners shall be released in the first stage of release;
b. persons who have served more than two thirds of their sentence;
c. detainees and/or prisoners charged with or imprisoned for security offenses not involving fatality or serious injury;
d. detainees and/or prisoners charged with or convicted of non-security criminal offenses; and
e. citizens of Arab countries being held in Israel pending implementation of orders for their deportation. 
3. Detainees and prisoners from among the categories detailed in this paragraph, who meet the criteria set out in paragraph 2 above, are being considered by Israel to be eligible for release:
a. prisoners and/or detainees aged 50 years and above;
b. prisoners and/or detainees under 18 years of age;
c. prisoners who have been imprisoned for 10 years or more; and
d. sick and unhealthy prisoners and/or detainees. 
Note especially items 2b) and 2c). In 1995, Israel had only recently declared the PLO not to be a terrorist organization since Arafat had made a declaration (albeit an insincere one) renouncing terrorism as a tactic. There were still people in jail who had been arrested for belonging to Fatah. It was mainly these people that prisoner releases were meant to free.

So what happened a few years later when then (and now, current) Prime Minister Netanyahu followed these terms to the letter?

Arafat incited riots against Israel!
With every day, until the relative calm of today, the unrest has gained momentum, threatening the Israeli-Palestinian peace effort. In response to the violence, the Israelis have frozen the land-for-security plan, and it appears increasingly unlikely that they will carry out the second of three withdrawals from the West Bank as scheduled by Dec. 18.
And with every day, the prisoner issue has assumed greater importance.
Some youths are referring to the riots as ''the prisoners' intifada,'' evoking the Palestinian uprising of 1987-1993. The anniversary of that uprising's outbreak will be celebrated on Wednesday. Israeli officials have seized on the label to paint the unrest as a breakdown of the peace effort.
Further reporting showed little outrage over this violence.

Lee Hockstader of the Washington Post reported:
When Israel released the first batch of 250 last month, the Palestinians were outraged that they included 150 common criminals. The deal, said Arafat and his aides, was for political prisoners to be freed. Surely they did not bargain for days at Wye for the liberation of car thieves, said Ahmed Tibi, a Palestinian spokesman.
Not so, said Netanyahu, and the State Department concurred: Nowhere in the agreement does it specify that the freed detainees be political prisoners. But the American stance has done nothing to defuse the anger among Palestinians, for whom the issue of prisoners is visceral.
This weekend, it burst into the open with demonstrations throughout the West Bank, which were put down by Israeli troops firing lethal rubber-coated bullets and tear gas. The scenes of the wounded being carted off, bloodied and grimacing in pain, were reminiscent of the Palestinian uprising that ended six years ago. At the same time, hundreds of the prisoners began a hunger strike that was joined by some of their families.
 The LA Times reported:
Arafat, in a meeting this week, asked Clinton to resolve the dispute, according to Ahmed Tibi, a senior advisor to Arafat.
Tibi accused the Israeli government of misleading the Palestinians on the releases and of deceptively padding the release rosters with car thieves and other common criminals. Of about 2,100 Palestinian "political prisoners," Tibi said, about 300 killed Israelis and an additional 1,000 are members of Hamas or similar militant Islamic organizations and not eligible for release. That would leave at least 700 supporters of Fatah and other pro-Arafat organizations who Tibi said should be freed.
"These are the soldiers of Yasser Arafat," Tibi said.
The Israeli government disputes those figures, however, saying that only 200 or so inmates meet the criteria for release.
Note that neither report includes the important detail that Arafat was changing the deal from what was written in Oslo.

Two weeks later in an op-ed Peter Edelman of Americans for Peace Now complained:
Why is the latest peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in danger when both sides started off largely meeting the terms of their commitments? As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatens to delay implementation of the Wye memorandum for the umpteenth time, it's clear that mere compliance with the letter of the accord is not enough.
The agreement is threatened because the deep distrust that evolved between the two sides over the past few years did not dissipate when Netanyahu and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat signed the deal. Almost from the moment he returned to Israel from the Wye summit, Netanyahu has antagonized the Palestinians as well as his American allies. Until the Israeli government changes its attitude, it will be difficult to resolve issues that have evolved outside the text of the agreement, much less move forward to productive final status negotiations.

Later on Edelman apportions blame to Arafat too, but of course his main target was Netanyahu.

Charles Krauthammer, as usual, observed something important:
The administration did, in the famous "Note for the Record" requiring the Palestinians to end anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic incitement, to change the Palestinian charter to eliminate clauses rejecting Israel's existence, to reduce the size of the Palestinian police, etc.
Every single one of these promises remained a dead letter. How do we know? Because they reappear--as Palestinian commitments--in the Wye accord negotiated 21 months later. This time, said the State Department, we really mean it: Israel will get these reciprocal gestures--in return for another 13 percent of the land.
Indeed, the U.S. proposed a three-stage deal so that Israel would not be stiffed again. Rather than withdrawing in one chunk--as it did in Hebron, then finding that the Palestinians, land in hand, simply ignored their obligations--Israel would give up 2 percent first, then wait for Palestinian compliance; then another 5 percent, with a pause for Palestinian compliance; then a final 6 percent.
Contrary to Edelman's false charge (later in the op-ed) that Netanyahu had delayed withdrawals outside of the framework of Wye, Krauthammer points out that the stages were an essential part of Wye.

What's important about this incident is how it demonstrated a trend of Palestinian demands becoming etched in stone - regardless of what was actually agreed to. Netanyahu once again found himself cast as the bad guy for insisting the agreements meant something.

One footnote to this prisoner story is this report, a month later: Arafat Releases Prisoners to Mark Holiday; Israel Protests
Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat released 54 jailed prisoners, including members of the Islamic militant group Hamas and other opposition organizations, to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
A Palestinian police spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said those freed included both criminals and political detainees, among them some low-level members of the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Leading Hamas figure Abdel Aziz Rantissi and Islamic Jihad leader Abdullah Shami were not among those released.
Israel called the move a "violation" of agreements.
The prisoner release was a pretty clear violation of Arafat's commitment at Wye to fight terror, and the LA Times puts violation in scare quotes!

The Israel Project has a list of prisoner releases that Israel has undertaken as of 2008.

2) $110,000 a month

The New York Times offers a rofile of one of the released prisoners, Making the Uneasy Transition From Prisoner to Celebrity
Mr. Taqatqa, 38, was among the first group of 477 Palestinian prisoners freed in return for an Israeli tank soldier, Sgt. First Class Gilad Shalit, captured five years ago when Hamas militants crossed through a tunnel to raid an Israeli military base. Mr. Taqatqa had served 18 years of a life sentence in an Israeli prison, with a lot of time spent in solitary.
While Sergeant Shalit has remained largely out of public view, Mr. Taqatqa and many of the other freed Palestinian prisoners are living in the full glare of near constant publicity. The transition and unceasing attention have made Mr. Taqatqa a bit uneasy as he tries to learn to deal not only with freedom but also with the unfamiliar trappings of modern life, like cellphones and laptop computers.
“He still feels that he is in prison; he does not believe that he is out,” a sister, Zeinab, said during one evening visit to a family friend’s house. She has come to Gaza to help him find a wife. 
The profile shows a man who may really want to do something with his life, other than terrorism. There was a fascinating detail in the article.
He is among 60 former prisoners living at Gaza’s newest hotel, Al Mashtal, which looks out over the Mediterranean seafront. Featuring marble floors, palm trees and a swimming pool, it would not look out of place anywhere along the Mediterranean and usually charges $140 a night. Hamas is paying $110,000 per month to house the prisoners until they find homes. 
For an impoverished government in an impoverished region, $110,000 sounds like quite a lot. And of course, Taqatqa has a computer and a cellphone. Gaza is not, apparently, the portrait of poverty that many like to paint.

But if Mohammed Musa Taqatqa is interested in moving beyond the violence, other recently released terrorists are not so inclined.
Muhammad Abu Ataya: I was arrested for being a member of the Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, and for killing traitors and spies, and killing traitors and spies, as well as going after the herd of settlers and the Israeli army.

Interviewer: Brother Muhammad, as you regain your freedom, you carry the gun of the rebel, the gun of the fighter, and you wear the fatigues of the Al-Qassam Brigades, even though Netanyahu warned that any released prisoner rejoining the resistance would be severely punished.

Muhammad Abu Ataya: He can make as many warning as he likes. His warning and threats will not deter us from continuing the journey of resistance, on which we embarked decades ago. 
Interviewer: If you could go back in time, would you carry out such a large-scale attack?

Ahlam Tamimi: Of course. I do not regret what happened. Absolutely not. This is the path. I dedicated myself to Jihad for the sake of Allah, and Allah granted me success. You know how many casualties there were [in the 2001 attack on the Sbarro pizzeria]. This was made possible by Allah. Do you want me to denounce what I did? That's out of the question. I would do it again today, and in the same manner. 
As I wrote yesterday, these terrorists are honored not for the time spent in Israeli jails but for their efforts to kill Jews. And it's not just Hamas that supports these efforts, the "moderate" Abbas does too.

There will be no peace until terrorism is no longer rewarded by the Palestinians.

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