UN special envoy to talks: This is moment of truth
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UN special envoy to talks: This is moment of truth

Robert Serry expresses worry over prisoner-release impasse, says negotiations will collapse if no solution found

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)

US Secretary of State John Kerry met this week with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in an attempt to prevent the negotiating process from falling apart in the coming days, amid the uncertainty over the release of convicted Palestinian prisoners detained in Israel.

While Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are busy blaming each other for the failure of the talks, the tireless Kerry is searching for a creative solution to the issue, specifically with regard to the possible release of Israeli-Arab prisoners.

The situation would be almost funny if it wasn’t so sad. As the two leaders trade barbs and accuse each other of torpedoing the talks, Kerry and the international community are frantically trying to get the pair to stop their fighting.

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry, one of the “responsible adults” running between the two sides, sounded very concerned over the prisoner controversy.

“March 29 [the original date set for the prisoner release] is of immediate concern, much more urgent than April 29, when negotiations are supposed to come to an end,” Serry told The Times of Israel this week.

“If a solution to this issue is not found in the coming days, it is doubtful that it will be possible to complete the nine months of talks. I hope that, in the end, Kerry will offer a framework consistent with the relevant UN resolutions and the Road Map. In my view, it is important for both sides to continue negotiations on that basis. If the political process succeeds, we need to think how much we can gain. The alternative to two states seems particularly bad.”

Serry recently returned from a visit to the Crimean Peninsula as part of an initiative by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He had a rough time there, as armed men without uniforms — most probably Russian soldiers — arrested him for several hours after he refused to leave the region. Following that experience, returning to Jerusalem and Ramallah suddenly seems somewhat pleasant. Still, Serry was plainly concerned.

“This is the moment of truth, not a time for games or attempts to score points in the last minute. I sincerely hope that both sides can accept the framework agreement. If the situation in the West Bank and Gaza does not improve, there will be consequences.”

What does that mean? An outbreak of violence?

“The ‘business as usual’ atmosphere cannot continue. The Palestinians might turn to the UN, and an Israeli response will follow. I cannot imagine a positive outcome in such a scenario.”

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