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November 1, 2013
Israel has released the second batch of Palestinian prisoners promised earlier this year in a deal to restart peace talks, but has done so while almost simultaneously announcing the building of several settlements in the West Bank. This has angered many in the international community, especially the Palestinians, who see this as proof that Israel is using the talks to stall while appropriating even more Palestinian land. There are reports that the Palestinian negotiators may have already expressed their intentions to withdraw from talks with their Israeli counterparts. In Israel, meanwhile, there is a robust debate going on about the wisdom and morality of the release of the Palestinian prisoners, many of whom were imprisoned for having killed Israelis.
For example, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Noah Klieger rails against his government’s decision to release the prisoners, arguing that it is unlikely such actions will assuage the Palestinians: “Another group of dangerous terrorists is about to be released prematurely; terrorists who were supposed to remain behind bars for life in accordance with the court's ruling, are going home. They will be able to start a family — a privilege some of their victims did not have — and prove once again that there is nothing behind Israel's statements regarding its ‘unrelenting war on terror.’...Apart from Livni herself, no one here really believes peace will come from her negotiations with Saeb Erekat. Netanyahu and Abbas resumed the peace talks mainly to get John Kerry off their backs and secure an alibi in case a third intifada erupts.”
Reacting to the negative coverage regarding the settlement expansion, the Jerusalem Post editorial suggests that the new construction is not the right move at this time — not because the Israeli government should no longer expand its settlements, but because such settlement construction should not be connected to the prisoner release: “We find it problematic that this government is using building beyond the Green Line as a quid pro quo for prisoner releases. Building in east Jerusalem and in settlement blocs should never be construed as a form of punishment against the Palestinians or as an ‘evening of scores.’ Rather, it should be a natural outcome of population growth. At the same time, we can understand the political expediency of emphasizing building to blunt criticism — particularly on the Right — of the unpopular move of freeing murderous terrorists. Notwithstanding U.S., UN and Palestinian claims to the contrary, Israeli building is not an obstacle to peace.”
However, many of the commentaries, including some Israeli ones, opposed the decision to build more settlements. Merav Betito counters the previous Israeli response by noting that the prisoner release was the right move: “The release of murderers becomes a moral nuisance every time we start dealing with it. The real problem occurs in the place where this claim puts on a military security disguise and strengthens the place of rightists who serve in their own eyes as the acting deputies of the chief of staff....There is almost not a single military official in Israel today who will not say wholeheartedly that the occupation idea is very bad for the Jewish people: Those damned murderers we are releasing today are some of the bad symptoms of a reality in which our soldiers walk among them with weapons, tanks, uniform and helmets. Those terrible criminals we are setting free will return to a reality which will push them well into the open mouth of this dreadful conflict.”
The Saudi Gazette, on the other hand, called the double announcement a ‘neat trick,’ pointing out that “Tragically, what has happened demonstrates the subtext of despair that has underpinned every second that Palestinians have ever spent ‘negotiating’ with the Israelis. Successive Israeli governments have never been interested in a settlement. Their core plan has always been the seizure of all of Palestine, the pauperization of its former owners and the ejection of all Arabs, even those holding Israeli citizenship, from the land of Eretz (Greater) Israel. For all their apparent readiness to talk, every Israeli government has been pursuing, to a greater or lesser degree, this Zionist ambition.”
Faced with such unreliable negotiating partners, the Palestinians will need U.S. help, argues the Oman Tribune editorial: “The news in the context of Israel’s settlement building in the West Bank and Occupied East Jerusalem continues to be bad. Figures released some days ago showed that settlement construction had increased by 70 per cent this year when compared to last year....Given the rigid stance of extremist Israelis like Netanyahu and others in his government, it seems like the Palestinians are a long way from achieving their goal of a free state. Even the position of the United States is in no way helpful to the Palestinian realisation of their dream. The Americans certainly support an independent state but their actions seem anti-Palestinian.”
The Palestinians, for their part, are not amused at all by the latest Israeli sleight of hand. According to the Palestinian news agency WAFA: “A Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official said Thursday that Israel’s most recent settlement expansion plans are proof that it is not a partner for peace. Member of the PLO Executive Committee Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement that Israel is not interested in the two-state solution, rather in only creating ‘greater Israel.’ ‘The Israeli occupation is exposing its true intentions of creating ‘greater Israel’ rather than a two-state solution,’ said Ashrawi. ‘The Israeli government has proven once again that it is not a partner for peace nor a member of the international community that respects the global rule of law.’”
Finally, Maan News reports that Palestinian patience might have run out and that they may begin exploring other options involving international institutions: “Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said Thursday that the PA is considering going to international courts to file complaints against new Israeli settlements. Calling on the United States, the Arab and Islamic worlds and the rest of the international community to condemn Israel's new settlement plans, al-Malki said that the continuous construction of illegal settlements makes a two-state solution impossible.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.