Or lack thereof.
Before I get to the more current news, I want to back-track just a bit. Stay with me: see where I am going.
As you may recall, at the end of March, we were expected to release a last group of terrorists, as per original arrangements to bring Abbas to the table. But the voices raised in opposition to this here in Israel were strong. And there was a very serious issue with regard to releasing Arabs who were Israeli citizens – the PA having been under the impression that we would because this is what Kerry told them, although Israel had not agreed.
Our government assessed the situation. There were no direct negotiations going on. And Abbas had let it be known that once he had those prisoners, he was going to walk out. And so, Netanyahu, seeing no gain in such a move, cancelled that prisoner release, thereby eliciting rage from the Palestinian Arabs.
Enter the US, which attempted to “salvage” the situation. Rumors abounded about a deal in which we would release all of the last group of prisoners, and another 400 to boot, and the US would release Jonathan Pollard. Whatever its precise parameters, there was some sort of deal on the cusp of being completed. And then Abbas signed all of those applications for membership in international organizations and conventions, thereby quite deliberately scotching the deal.
At that point, Netanyahu declared that no prisoners would be released unless the applications to international agencies were voided. And that is my point here.
The applications were not voided and have in fact been accepted. According to what Netanyahu had said, we might have thought that the issue of releasing prisoners was dead.
Ah, but then we would not have reckoned sufficiently with Kerry’s determination to keep going at all costs, or with Netanyahu’s readiness, under duress, to help him achieve that goal.
Last Friday, Gil Hoffman, political analyst for the JPost, wrote an article about how Netanyahu had lost his majority in the cabinet for approving a deal that would see those prisoners released (apparently including the Israeli Arabs – who would have been banished from Israel), if Pollard were to be released, and the PA would stay at the table for an extended period of time.
The majority (of one) was lost because after the terror attack: Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Yisrael Beitenu) said he could not longer vote for a prisoner release since Abbas had not condemned it.
My point here is simple: Netanyahu, who said there would be no prisoner release if Abbas did not void international memberships, was prepared to waive that stipulation and go ahead anyway.
Not for a second do I make light of the enormous pressure that Kerry brings to bear. And yet, and yet… A leader must stand on principle, adhere to his word. Or else, where are we? Floundering, is where.
A note about Jonathan Pollard, who has been pulled around like a marionette on a string – he’ll be released, he won’t, he will, he won’t. What the Americans have done in this regard is despicable and beneath contempt.
With it all, however, perhaps something that will benefit him has been accomplished. It had been argued in certain quarters that he couldn’t be released because he represented a security risk. Patent nonsense after all these years, even if it might have been true in the beginning. But now it is demonstrably nonsense. If it was OK to release him in the context of Israeli-PA relations, then, clearly, it is OK to release him.
I urge that efforts to release Pollard be intensified.
As to quickly changing events on the scene:
Last night, I wrote about meetings on unity between the PA (Fatah) and Hamas, indicating that Abbas’s approach to Hamas was one more ploy. There was ample reason to think this. But it appears that this was not the case after all:
According to Al Jazeera, a Fatah delegation headed by Azzam al-Ahmad met Hamas leaders, including Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh (pictured below) and senior official Musa Abu Marzouk, in Gaza yesterday. At the end of the meeting it was announced that a unity government would be established within five weeks.
Said Haniyeh, “the possibility for further separation between the two movements is no longer possible given the current circumstances.”
From the Hamas perspective, anything that pulls Abbas away from Kerry’s incessant pressure to “negotiate” and into the “jihad” sphere is a good thing. From the Fatah, perspective, Abbas is thumbing his nose at the West and removing himself from a no-win situation.
The deal includes the following:
A government (I believe of technocrats) to be established within five week.
Elections for the presidency and legislature within six months.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad join the PLO.
The matter of Hamas joining the PLO has huge significance. This is something that Hamas has sought for a long time, for it confers power. Technically, Israel negotiates with the PLO, not the PA. Consider the implications.
A few comments here:
The fact that the unity agreement was announced does not guarantee genuine success. There have been multiple unity agreements that have fallen apart at one stage or another. Whether motivation is truly different now, because the situation is different, is something we’ll have to watch.
But, as much as there are inherent tensions between the two movements, there is also considerable affinity. Their ideologies are not so different – as both Fatah and Hamas want Israel gone; only the methodologies vary.
As much as Abbas has been intransigent in dealings with Israel, so is Hamas intransigent in its demands of Fatah. What I have observed over the years is that Fatah contact with Hamas further radicalizes Fatah. Do not for a fraction of a second be taken in by left-wing arguments that claim Fatah will “moderate” Hamas and bring it to the table for peace.
For the time being, this truly does seem to be the kiss of death for the “peace negotiations.” When news of the meeting first surfaced, Netanyahu declared that Abbas could choose peace or Hamas but could not have both. And, he added, rather pointlessly, even though Fatah had not chosen peace until now he hoped at this point it would.
After the formalization of the unity agreement was announced, Netanyahu observed that Abbas had chosen Hamas and not peace.
Here is a perfect case in point for what I discussed above. We must be able to count on it – that this is Israel’s red line and that there will be no further negotiations if Fatah is in a unity arrangement with Hamas. “Does he want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel? You can have one but not the other.” (Emphasis added)
It would seem to be a no-brainer. But there is always that slight unease, that Kerry’s presence will again be felt, and a loophole will be found that permits Israeli talks with the “Fatah branch” of the new unity government – or some such double talk.
At any rate, talks scheduled for today were cancelled by Israel. While Abbas is playing the “good partner,” acting as if he can do a reconciliation with Hamas and continue to pursue negotiations with Israel. His people will be meeting with US representatives.
The official statement from Abbas’s office:
“There is no incompatibility between reconciliation and negotiations, especially as we are committed to a just peace based on a two-state solution in accordance with resolutions of international law.
“In the interest of the Palestinian people, it is necessary to preserve the unity of land and people…This approach, supported on the Arab and international levels, strengthen[s] the capacity of Palestinian negotiators to achieve the two-state solution.”
Does Kerry – who spoke about Abbas’s dedication to pursuing peace – feel the complete fool yet?
© 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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