Though neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority formally announced it on Thursday, officials in both Jerusalem and Ramallah indicated that the peace negotiations begun last July and scheduled to run until at least the end of the month have now irretrievably collapsed.
Palestinian and Israeli media outlets on Thursday night quoted PA President Mahmoud Abbas as saying, “I would rather become a martyr” than rescind the applications he signed on Tuesday to join 15 UN and other international treaties and conventions. Instead, the Palestinians reportedly issued a long list of new preconditions for resuming talks — demands that Israeli officials privately dismissed immediately.
These preconditions, according to the Ma’an news agency, included a demand for official Israeli agreement to the establishment of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital; the release of 1,200 Palestinian prisoners including convicted terrorist chiefs Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Saadat; a building freeze in East Jerusalem and the West Bank; granting Israeli citizenship to 15,000 Palestinians under a family reunification program; the termination of Israel’s security blockade of Gaza; permission to bar the IDF from West Bank Area A (areas under full PA control) for entrance to arrest or kill terror operatives; and increased Palestinian control in Area C (areas under full Israeli control).
In what was reportedly a very unpleasant meeting Wednesday night, Israel’s chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, was said to have demanded of her Palestinian counterpart, Saeb Erekat, that Abbas rescind the applications to the 15 treaties. After that request was refused, Livni announced Thursday that Israel would not release a promised fourth and final batch of long-term Palestinian terrorists.
Abbas had signed up for the treaties in protest at Israel’s refusal to release the 26 prisoners last weekend as scheduled, Palestinian officials said. Israel, for its part, said it had delayed the releases because it first wanted a commitment from Abbas to extend the peace talks past the April 29 deadline, and because it did not want to include Israeli Arabs among those going free.
On Thursday, each side predictably blamed the other for the collapse, with Israeli officials asserting that the Israeli government had been ready to approve a complex, three-way deal under which Israel would have freed the final batch of 26-30 long-term Palestinian terror convicts and also released 400 more Palestinian security prisoners not guilty of violent crimes, peace talks would have extended beyond the current April 29 deadline, and the US would have released American-Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. The PA’s resort to unilateral UN-related action was a breach of the understandings underpinning the peace talks, they said.
The Palestinians, for their part, said Israel had breached the understandings by failing to release the prisoners on schedule, and they also objected to building tenders issued by Israel for 708 homes in Gilo, a Jerusalem neighborhood over the pre-1967 Green Line.
Palestinian officials privately threatened Thursday that the PA would now apply to numerous other international organizations, including pushing for boycotts of Israel and seeking legal rulings against Israel via international courts in The Hague. (The Palestinian Authority was reported in January to have begun setting up teams to wage diplomatic war against Israel in “every conceivable” forum.)
Israel’s Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (of the right-wing Jewish Home party) warned that, if they did so, Israel would press charges against Abbas in the International Criminal Court for what he said was “the daily funding of terrorism” — a possible reference to salaries paid by the PA to convicted terrorists in Israeli jails.
With telling timing, Israel’s Channel 2 News on Thursday night broadcast a report on the IDF’s Duvdevan undercover unit, which operates in the territories, in which the unit’s commander said his forces were preparing for a possible further escalation in violence, continuing a trend witnessed in recent weeks.
Bennett, however, shrugged off concerns about a new upsurge in violence, or a third intifada, saying that the relative quiet of recent years was “solely because of the IDF” rather than due to security cooperation with Abbas’s forces. Israeli army officials have constantly hailed that cooperation as central to the fairly calm atmosphere in the territories in recent years.
Bennett also said he and his party colleagues would vote against any further deals to release terrorists, saying that “Israel is the only country in the world” that agrees to such deals. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman had said on Wednesday that he would oppose any deal that provided for the release of Israeli Arabs.
Israeli analysts on Thursday night news broadcasts suggested that Abbas believes the international community will sympathize more with the Palestinians than with Israel when considering who to blame for the collapse in the talks. They noted that White House spokesman Jay Carney had said the delay in the prisoner releases “creates challenges.”