Lots of false starts with this one. A paragraph or two, then a stop for a day or two. Another two or three paragraphs and a stop for two or three days. And so it went. These things happen. A pressure here, a situation there and everything tends to be put “on hold”. Then, a window of opportunity is opened and we need to seize the moment. So, what’s been happening? Too much and not enough. Sounds a bit contradictory, but that is the nature of the Middle-East morass. And, to top it all off, we are about to celebrate another Passover. The ways things have been going, I sometimes wonder whether our leadership realises that we have been freed from slavery in Egypt. An Egyptian journalist wants to sue Israel for the damages caused to Egyptians as a result of the 10 Biblical plagues. Not to be forgotten is the “new antisemitism”, which is really the “old” antisemitism that hasn’t gone away, but only changed its appearance. Then, there’s talk about “blood moons”. Oy! Oh, yeah. After years of legal manoeuvring, Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was finally found guilty of bribery.
Pieces of the “peace puzzle” are pulling away.
The so-called “peace process” is taking on zombie-like features: dead, but still moving and threatening. Mahmoud Abbas met with U.S. President Obama and said “no, no, no”: He would not recognise Israel as a Jewish state; he would not abandon the “Palestinian” claim for a “right of return” and would not commit to ending the conflict if a “Palestinian” state is establish. gets backing from the Arab League, which has officially endorsed “Palestinian” refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.
Abbas received backing from the Arab League, which officially endorsed “Palestinian” refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. Of course, along with that refusal, Abbas again threatened to take the case for a “Palestinian” state to that “un-organization”, the U.N., as the Arab League also blamed Israel for all the evils of the Arab-Israeli conflict. “We hold Israel entirely responsible for the lack of progress in the peace process and continuing tension in the Middle East…We express our absolute and decisive rejection to recognising Israel as a Jewish state.” Arab League see – Arab League do. I’m surprised that the Arab League hasn’t blamed Israel for the problem with bad breath in the world.
The planned, but delayed, and now very questionable, last prisoner release again poured salt on open wounds, caused division in the highest levels of our government and further aggravated the already aggravating “peace process”, which came to an abrupt half and even appeared to start to go backwards. The United States was becoming desperate in its efforts to salvage the peace negotiations and was rumoured to be willing to release Jonathan Pollard for prisoners held by Israel. On our end, we were willing to release 400 prisoners if Abbas would agree to extend the talks for another year. Abbas then raised the ante and demanded the release of Marwan Barghouti, a terrorist serving five life sentences in Israel for his role in the second intifada. U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, made more trips to our neck of the woods, trying to salvage the wreck of the “peace process”. While in our neck of the woods, he also met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who had just returned from the Arab League summit in Kuwait. Abdullah added a little fuel to the fire, calling on the international community to put pressure on Israel to “desist from the steps it’s been taking”, adding “The path to a just peace goes through the establishment of the State of Palestine.”
It didn’t take long for the situation to deteriorate even further. Jibril Rajoub, senior advisor to Abbas, said, “We have not abandoned the negotiating table… We are committed to nine months of talks… until the end of April.” Fatah spokesman Ahmad Assaf added that “if our heroes are freed” in the prisoner release that was supposed to have gone ahead last week, then previous Israeli-Palestinian understandings would be “intact.”
But, Abbas snubbed his nose at everyone and signed applications to adhere to 15 international treaties, rejecting Israeli demands that he withdraw those applications. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ignored appeals to refrain from “unhelpful” tit-for-tat moves and came up with a list of tough reprisals against the renewed move of the “Palestinians” to gain international backing for the establishment of a separate state. He said that the “Palestinians” have only one way to achieve statehood and that is through negotiations, not through “empty declarations or one-sided actions that only push a peace agreement further away”. He added: “Unilateral actions from the ‘Palestinians’ will be answered with unilateral actions from our side.”
In what may have been in the planning stages for a long time, P.M. Netanyahu put action behind his words. In response to Abbas’s applications to international bodies, Netanyahu ordered Israeli government officials not to meet with their “Palestinian” counterparts. This would apply to all official contacts, except for those between the Defense Ministry and the “P.A.”, which would have affected security cooperation in Judea and Samaria. Cooperation “in the field” among low-level officials would also continue. But, there was clear understanding by “Palestinian” officials what would happen if Israel imposed punitive measures on the “P.A.”, as one senior “P.A.” official said that if such punitive measures were implemented, it would result in the collapse of the “Palestinian” Authority. One of those measures is to cease to transfer Israeli tax money to the “P.A.”. According to the “P.A.” Ministry of Prisoner Affairs, in 2012, some $75.5 million was paid to terrorists imprisoned by Israel and their families, a move which Israel sees as “funding terrorism”. (Good morning, folks!) Israel has indicated that at least this amount would be withheld. Believe it or not, at present, about $100 million (yes, U.S. Dollars!!!) a month is transferred by Israel to the “Palestinians”. And people accuse us of being economically smart. I think I’m missing something here.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry blamed Israel for the breakdown in the talks, saying that the negotiations began to crumble only after Israel refused to release the fourth round of prisoners: “The prisoners were not released by Israel on the day they were supposed to be released and then another day passed and another day, and then 700 [new housing] units were approved in Jerusalem and then poof – that was sort of the moment.” While addressing a Senate hearing, Kerry added a few words regarding the “Palestinians”: “The treaties [with the international organisations] were unhelpful, and we made that crystal clear to the ‘Palestinians’.” He also said that “Palestinian” recognition of Israel as a Jewish state should be part of a final peace agreement, but indicated that this would be achieved at the end of the peace process and not at the beginning. He remained optimistic.
But, U.S. Senator John McCain was more of a realist and told Kerry that the “talks, even though you might drag them out for a bit, are finished.” Kerry responded that the talks could still be salvaged, but noted that “there are limits to the amount of time the president and myself [did he mean “I”?] can put into this, considering the other challenges around the world, especially if the parties can’t commit to being there in a serious way.”
Israel did not allow Kerry’s accusation to go unchallenged. So on Friday, April 11th, one of Israel’s leading TV stations quoted an unnamed senior Israeli official, who claimed that Kerry was responsible for the crisis, because he improperly told “Palestinian” Authority that Israel would be willing to release Israeli Arabs in the last round of prisoner releases, when Israel never agreed to do so. The official added that Kerry had months to try to resolve this particular issue, as well as the issue over how many prisoners would actually go free, but he failed to accomplish it. The TV report continued, saying that Kerry eventually acknowledged that he “made a mistake here” – regarding the release of Israeli-Arab terror convicts. This, in turn, led to the beginning of a complex deal under which the U.S. would free Jonathan Pollard, in exchange for the release of the Israeli-Arab prisoners and hundreds of others, among other things, if the “Palestinians” would stop all unilateral moves towards statehood and agree to resume the negotiations. But, that deal was nixed when Abbas took unilateral steps to affiliate with various international organizations. In a sense, this move of Abbas prevented the collapse of the present Israeli government, as one of the major coalition partners, HaBayit Hayehudi, led by Naftali Bennett, was set to leave the government, if it was agreed that Israeli-Arab terror prisoners would be released.
Nevetheless, on Thursday, April 10th, in an interview with A-Sharq al-Awsat (which means “The Middle East” – it is a London-based daily), Abbas said that he was willing to extend the peace talks beyond the present deadline of April 29th, but added that such extension must be aimed at the establishment of a “Palestinian” state, with its capital in East Jerusalem. What became finally clear to the high-ranking politicos here is that Abbas is not interested in resolving the “Palestinian” issue. (no kidding, Sherlock) One news report indicated that this conclusion began to be formulated about five years ago, when Netanyahu seriously offered Abbas the option of face-to-face negotiations, “until we reach an agreement”. Abbas’s response was that he was prepared to begin such a process, but not to achieve either an end of the conflict or an end of “Palestinian” demands. That conclusion finally came home to roost.
Chief “Palestinian” negotiator Saeb Erekat (remember him? – he’s the one who likes to change history and claimed that his Canaanite family lived in Jericho 3,000 years before Joshua Bin Nun burned it down) said that the gaps between the parties remain “very wide” and that reports of progress in renewing the talks were false. In any event, U.S. Mediator, Martin Indyk, returned to the U.S. for the Passover break, as there was no visible light at the end of the tunnel that would indicate that there was almost no possibility of reaching a breakthrough in the present impasse or for talks to be extended beyond the present deadline of April 29th.
I’ll follow the lead of Martin Indyk and take a break here.
Part 2 to follow.