The floundering peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians feature highly on the front pages of Arab newspapers as the week draws to a close.
“The Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations meeting almost deteriorated into a fist fight,” reads the headline of Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, reporting that the eight-hour meeting between the sides late Wednesday night turned into an “accusation exchange session” despite the presence of US mediator Martin Indyk in the room.
Sources tell the daily that talks between the negotiators were “very difficult” and nearly deteriorated into physical fights on a number of times.
London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi says the lengthy talks resembled a “war of attrition,” characterized by the exchange of insults. The daily quotes Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat as telling his Israeli counterparts Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho that Palestinians will “pursue you as war criminals.”
The headline of London-based liberal daily Al-Hayat speaks of a possible American compromise “to save the peace process,” with Israeli and Palestinian responses expected within days.
According to the daily, Israel will release the fourth and final batch of Palestinian prisoners jailed before 1993. The US in turn will release American-Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard and negotiations will be extended by a year, during which time Israel will release 400 additional Palestinian prisoners.
Palestinian official daily Al-Ayyam, in more subdued tone, reports that “the failure of the nine-hour meeting [on Wednesday night] exposes the depth of the differences.”
Jerusalem-based Palestinian daily Al-Quds quotes from the Washington Post on Friday, citing sources close to Secretary of State John Kerry as saying that he will soon admit his efforts to broker peace have failed at this time.
A number of Arab commentators put the blame for the failure of talks on the Americans, who they accuse of unabashed bias favoring Israel.
“The culture of blame — which certain states have adopted as a form of evading responsibility — seems to be coming toward the Palestinian leadership and the Syrian opposition,” writes Raghda Dargham in Al-Hayat Friday. “John Kerry’s patronage of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, aimed at reaching a two-state solution, truly stems from good intentions… but Kerry is driving the wagon into a dead end; and the wagon may be booby-trapped.”
Ziad Abu-Ein, PA Deputy Minister for Prisoner Affairs, tells the Palestinian Ma’an news agency Friday that the PA was never informed by Israel of its intent to not release the fourth and last installment of prisoners.
Abu-Ein told Ma’an that Palestinian prisoners are planning an escalation, starting next week, possibly even going on hunger strike. Public rallies and activities in support of the prisoners are planned to take place across the West Bank.
Meanwhile, Palestinian official newspapers quote a report by Reuters describing the drive to join international institutions and treaties as a “competent move” intended to avoid American sanctions.
“Abbas’s action may have been designed more as a symbolic act of defiance to shore up his tenuous standing among Palestinians frustrated at the diplomatic impasse with Israel over their goal of statehood than a knife in the heart of peacemaking,” reads the Reuters article quoted by Al-Ayyam and Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah.
The editorial of Al-Quds Al-Arabi on April 2 rebuffed Israel’s threat to exact a “high price” from Abbas’s unilateral international appeal.
“Is there a high price that the Palestinians have not yet paid? Did the negotiations which began in the Madrid Conference, then Oslo, then Cairo, then Wye River, then Camp David, etc. for a quarter century ever have a goal other than wasting time and annihilating the national cause? Did Israel ever keep any of its commitments and have any of them led to agreements?”