Apr 02 2014

Palestinians want real change for peace talks to proceed

Published by at 11:21 am under Articles,Palestinian politics


By Daoud Kuttab

The delay of the release of the fourth tranche of Palestinian prisoners and Israel’s bait that it will do so only if the Palestinians agree to extend the talks has failed to get a bite from Palestinian negotiators.

The Palestinians have repeatedly said that the agreement at the start of the nine-month negotiations was that in return for Palestine refraining from joining UN agencies, the Israelis would release 104 long-term prisoners. The prisoners talked about have already served more than 20 years in jail and their release had been agreed to in September 1999 and recorded in the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum, a copy of which continues to exist on the Israeli Knesset website.

The fact that the Palestinians agreed to make a deal for their release, again, was an act of benevolence and a show of good faith to get the talks started. The idea that the last batch of prisoners be divided between those who have Israeli citizenship or residency and those whose residency is directly connected to the Palestinian government is also unacceptable to Palestinian leaders.

To break the logjam, Israel and the United States are trying new ideas, such as adding more prisoners to be released to the remaining 26 prisoners in return for an agreement by the Palestinian leadership to extend the talks a further six months. Again, the Palestinians are stubbornly opposing any change or compromise on an agreement already made.

The latest Israeli debate has moved from prisoner release to the possibility of a settlement freeze. Palestinians have consistently insisted on the freeze on building illegal settlements and a prisoner release as signs of goodwill for peace talks. Refraining from carrying out an illegal act, the argument goes, should not be a basis for some kind of reward.

Furthermore, when hearing some of the details of the Israeli freeze, one understands that it is not a total suspension of all settlement activities in areas occupied in 1967. Instead, the Israelis, according to press reports, claim that an informal settlement freeze would neither include East Jerusalem nor the Jordan Valley. The suspension, which apparently has been suggested by the United States, would also not include a number of large settlement blocks straddling the Green Line. Some Israelis also want settlement building to continue in the controversial Ma’ale Adumim settlement and its surroundings, which effectively cuts up the West Bank into northern and southern islands. Even the proposal for an extremely partial settlement freeze is insincere, fails to respect international law and provides zero incentive for the Palestinians to continue talks.

On the substance of the peace talks, it is not clear how the continuation of the peace process will help break the deadlock over issues such as Israel’s demands to hold on to the Jordan Valley and East Jerusalem. A report in the London-based Al-Hayat states that US Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework tries to skirt the Palestinian demands that East Jerusalem be the capital of the Palestinian state. The American terminology gymnastics includes the idea that the Palestinian capital can be in parts of East Jerusalem, rather than the entire eastern sector of Jerusalem. East Jerusalem, which was under Arab sovereignty before 1967, includes the walled Old City of Jerusalem where major religious sites such as Haram al-Sharif, the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre lie. The idea that the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina could become the capital of Palestine has been vociferously rejected by the Palestinians.

Whatever happens in resolving the current impasse, it is clear that there is little confidence between the parties. The Palestinians feel that Israel wants the process of talking about peace — rather than achieving peace — to continue to show that in action rather than words. The mood of the Palestinian street, however, is unenthused as many are opposed to the current peace process that appears to be going nowhere. With 50 Palestinians having been killed since the start of the current peace talks, President Mahmoud Abbas needs real changes on the ground to win over pessimistic public support.

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