Sunday, March 30, 2014
I had intended to write last night – the night when that last batch of Palestinian Arab terrorists was scheduled for release – to say that we had a temporary reprieve. It was clear even before last night that they were not going to be released on schedule, because the process required public announcement of their names 48 hours before their release (not counting Shabbat), and that deadline had come and gone without announcement.
I wanted to say, “Pheww...” at least for now they’re not out.
But when I began to check news sources with regard to the release, I found that the situation was in such disarray, with so many conflicting reports, that writing coherently seemed close to impossible.
There appeared to be a reasonable consensus within the Israeli government that Abbas was hedging matters too much to “justify” a further release of prisoners (not that this could ever really be justified). It’s sort of a “why are we bothering” feeling that has developed, as Abbas stonewalls and refuses all concessions. PA officials this past week had said Abbas might agree to continue negotiations after the April 29 deadline if Israel goes through with the prisoner release. Israeli officials are concerned about the possibility that Abbas would welcome the prisoner released, call it a victory, and then balk at further negotiations. (More on further negotiations below.)
In a talk, also this past week, chief Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni said that “The key to the prison where the Palestinian prisoners are being held” is in Abbas’s hands...
”There was never an “automatic commitment to release prisoners unrelated to making progress in negotiations.”
Now she is denying she made a link between progress in negotiations and the prisoner release.
Yesterday, al-Hayat (London), citing PA sources said that Kerry had told Abbas that Netanyahu had shared concerns that his government might fall if more prisoners were released. That it might is true enough. Kerry prevailed upon Abbas to accept a postponement in the release of those prisoners, and to move on in the meantime.
Ha! Abbas, of course, will agree to nothing of the sort.
Meanwhile, today, in the JPost an Israeli official is cited as denying that Netanyahu ever made any such claim.
The truth of the matter – both here and in other related situations – is impossible to discern.
Last night, the Times of Israel carried an exclusive. Citing Palestinian sources, the Times reported that:
”Israel has offered to release a new group of 400 Palestinian security prisoners, in addition to the fourth and final group of longtime terrorism convicts who were set to go free this weekend, if the Palestinian Authority agrees to extend peace talks for another six months. The US, anxious to arrange for the continuation of the talks, backed the offer.”
A huge shock, if true. What must be kept in mind that this information comes only from Palestinian sources, not known for reliability. It is counter-intuitive, given the furor in this country about releasing 26 prisoners.
Whether Netanyahu did or did not tell Kerry the release of more prisoners would risk his coalition, it is almost a sure thing that the coalition would disintegrate in the face of the release of 400. Already, Naftali Bennett has said that this will not happen. That is, the Cabinet and Knesset would not stand for it.
Today, Netanyahu has said that the issue will be resolved “in days.” It “will be closed or it will blow up.”
“In any case, there won’t be any deal without receiving something of clear value [in return],” Netanyahu declared. (Emphasis added.)
That’s a bit amorphous, as it depends on a judgment about what would be “of clear value.”
It’s important to understand that the Israeli government has an objective beyond theoretically achieving a “two-state solution”:
The PA is threatening to go to international tribunals and the UN if it does not get satisfaction in its dealings with Israel. This means – among other things - securing UN recognition of a Palestinian state. The US told the Washington Post yesterday that it could not stop the PA from going to the UN if talks failed.
(In point of fact, it is my understanding that, according to international law, the UN does not have jurisdiction to declare a state. I will revisit this in more detail if this appears about to happen.)
Israel is seeking to avoid this scenario. Keeping the PA at the negotiating table means it is committed, for the duration, to not going to the UN or international tribunals.
It still seems to me, however, that in using this tactic we are simply delaying the inevitable. We are never going to give the Palestinian Arabs want they want – there is not going to be a Palestinian state comprised of all the land past the Green Line (the 1949 armistice line) with Jerusalem as its capital, and return of “refugees.” Ultimately the PA will seek recourse in exactly what they threaten now.
It is time, I suggest, for a new, more offensive approach on this front.
Thus am I encouraged by what I see as a tentative sign of progress. Netanyahu is no longer reflexively jumping to show – at ridiculous cost to us - that we are the “cooperative party,” so that the international community will not censure us. The government is ready to buck a Kerry demand, even if tentatively, because acceding is perceived to be detrimental to us. Perhaps (is this wishful thinking?) we are on the verge of declaring that the emperor indeed is without clothes. Perhaps a majority of the government and the Knesset will finally show itself to be sick of this whole charade.
Remember that there is still the entire issue of the release of Israeli Arab prisoners along with the others – something we say we are not committed to, and that the PA says we are. Before these prisoners can be released, there would have to be a special Cabinet vote, and there is serious doubt as to whether it would pass.
Lastly, before turning to other matters, there is this particular outrage:
The JPost reported last week a charge by MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud) that while the US was pressing Netanyahu to release prisoners, American officials had requested that no terrorists who have killed Americans be among those released.
I contacted MK Feiglin directly, and he confirmed that he had information on this.
Let me turn, briefly, then, to other issues, starting with this statement from our “peace partner”:
“The Palestinian Authority Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud Al-Habbash and the former Chief Justice of the PA's Religious Court both recently declared that the PA's Islamic belief and political position is that Jews are prohibited from praying at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount...
‘Allah decreed that the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque is Islamic and belongs to Muslims alone... It is part of the religious belief of a billion and a half Muslims, and the Jews have no right to it. No party, no matter how much power and international support it has, can change this established fact by giving the Jews any right to it, or the right to pray in any part of it. The Al-Aqsa Mosque includes all its courtyards... and specifically, its western wall.’"
At one point the suggestion – itself totally unacceptable! - was that the Arabs have the Mount and the Jews have the Western Wall. These guys are getting more audacious in their effort to squeeze us out entirely. And we need to take note of this. There is no compromise possible here.
Another attempt to squeeze us out was put forth recently by Saeb Erekat, who claimed that, “I am the proud son of the Canaanites who were there 5,500 years before Joshua bin Nun burned down the town of Jericho.” His intent was to establish that the Palestinian Arabs are the true indigenous people, here long before the Jews. Never mind that Joshua never burned down Jericho, but merely brought its walls down – his claim is ludicrous.
Alan Baker, Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, has set the record straight, and effectively so:
“Saeb Erekat’s family is Bedouin. According to Bedouin genealogy, the family is part of the Huweitat clan which originated in the Hejaz area of Saudi Arabia, arrived in Palestine from the south of Jordan, and settled in the village of Abu Dis in the early twentieth century...
“Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, has already established an international reputation for stretching the truth. Many Israelis recall during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 when Erekat went on CNN to assert that Israel had killed ‘more than 500 people’ in Jenin in a “real massacre,’ adding that 300 Palestinians were being buried in mass graves. It soon became clear that in combat operations at the time, the Palestinian death toll in Jenin was 52: 34 of whom (65 percent) were known military operatives of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or Fatah-Tanzim. Now Erekat’s wild assertions have moved into the field of history as part of a Palestinian battle over the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
“Chief Palestinian negotiator”: go negotiate with people like this.
In the midst of all of this, I want to end on an upbeat note, with Pharrell Williams’ Happy Jerusalem Video. What fun: