Israeli officials: Abbas has torpedoed Pollard-for-prisoners deal

Israeli officials: Abbas has torpedoed Pollard-for-prisoners deal

Right-wing Israeli minister urges Netanyahu to respond by halting all peace talks, announcing major settlement building

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas talks during a leadership meeting in Ramallah, April 1, 2014. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas talks during a leadership meeting in Ramallah, April 1, 2014. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s application to join 15 international treaties and conventions represents a “major breach” of his understandings with Israel and the US over peace negotiations, and it indicates that there is now “almost no chance” of a Pollard-for-prisoners deal enabling the continuation of peace talks, Israeli officials said Wednesday afternoon.

The unnamed officials, quoted by Channel 2’s diplomatic reporter Udi Segal, accused the Palestinians of “torpedoing” the nascent, complex three-way deal under which Israel would have freed a 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.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued no immediate official response to Abbas’s move.

Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel (of the nationalist Jewish Home party) told Army Radio that Abbas’s decision to seek membership in the 15 international treaties and conventions required “a complete halt” to the diplomatic process. He accused Abbas of “spitting in everyone’s faces” by pre-planning a televised ceremony on Tuesday at which he signed the relevant letters of accession. Those letters were formally presented to UN and other representatives on Wednesday.

Ariel urged Netanyahu to respond to what he called Abbas’s “deliberate provocation” by cancelling the Oslo Accords and announcing major new building plans at West Bank settlements, as happened two years ago when Abbas appealed to the UN for endorsement of Palestinian statehood.

Palestinian officials denied that applying to join the treaties and conventions marked a breach of understandings, and said the PA was committed to continuing talks until the April 29 deadline. “This is the fulfillment of Palestine’s right and has nothing to do with negotiations or the reaching of an agreement,” the PLO’s negotiations department said in a statement.

Channel 2’s Segal also said that US Secretary of State John Kerry, who claimed on Tuesday that Abbas had not breached peace understandings because he had not sought to join UN-related agencies, seemed to be trying to “whitewash” the PA president’s move.

Kerry on Tuesday canceled plans to travel on Wednesday to Ramallah for a meeting with Abbas, announcing the change of plan shortly after Abbas made the public display of signing applications for Palestinian admission to the 15 treaties and conventions. The secretary’s abrupt shift underlined the crisis in the peace talks, which began last July under Kerry’s supervision but which have been largely deadlocked.

Israeli Middle East analyst Ehud Ya’ari noted that the Palestinians had “heavier” diplomatic weapons in their armory that they had not yet chosen to use. He described Abbas’s move as “muscle-flexing” in response to Israel’s failure to release the fourth and final group of Palestinian terror convicts who had been set to go free last weekend. Israeli officials had balked at a PA demand for several Israeli-Arabs to be included in that group, and also insisted that Abbas first commit to extending peace talks past April — a demand Abbas refused.

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