[Warning: this is a long piece. But it is, after all, about war and peace…]
Perception on the world stage is reality. The perception is that Israel is to blame for the lack of peace talks. If Israel wanted to improve its standing on the world stage, it had to change that perception. Hold that thought.
Abbas and company refused to come to talk unless pre-conditions were met. Broadly speaking, these were the cessation of construction across the Green Line, and starting from the position that the Green Line was to be the border between Israel and the Palestinian state. Hold that thought as well.
The present position appears to be that neither of Abbas’ pre-conditions are being met – automatically. Instead, more than 100 convicted terrorists are to be released. How did Bibi get to that position?
To answer the question, first read this excellent opinion piece by David Horowitz at the Times of Israel. It includes this:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not want to alienate the Obama administration as he grapples with the potential existential threat to Israel posed by Iran’s relentless progress toward nuclear weapons capability.
Netanyahu does not want to see Israel blamed for the failure of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s relentless efforts over six visits to the Middle East to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
And Netanyahu, while entirely unconvinced that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas intends to take viable positions on the contours and modalities of a Palestinian state when those negotiations resume, is adamant that Israel must not return to what he considers indefensible pre-1967 lines and insists on seeking to drive a harder territorial bargain than his predecessor Ehud Olmert if the talks do make some headway.
These are among the central factors that led Netanyahu in the last few days to capitulate to the Palestinian demand to release more than 100 hardcore terror convicts — including men who planned and executed some of the most brutal acts of violence against Israelis in the years before the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993
Second, read this softly, softly narrative from the Guardian.
“The release of 104 long-term Palestinian prisoners was approved by the Israeli cabinet on Sunday after an emotional debate when Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, stressed the need to take tough and painful decisions in order to move towards renewed peace negotiations.
The prisoners’ release is part of a deal brokered by the United States to begin preliminary talks on a possible resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict this week. Most of the men have been in jail for more than 20 years.
The Palestinians warned that without an agreement to free the prisoners…
The first of four groups of prisoners…”
Note the repeated use of prisoners. If you read it, you will also see how minimal the mention of the terrorists’ crimes is – and it’s certainly not by the journalist. This is closely connected to the point made above about perception. To many Israelis these people are dangerous scum. To the Guardian and their ilk, they are nice people, more akin to a sewing circle talking politics, than a bunch of murderers.
Third, be aware of the common thread in the ‘progress’ towards the talks: the good old USA. Then read this snapshot from Arutz Sheva. The report may be a narrow focus of hardline views, but it is difficult to argue with this:
The United States would never do what Israel is being asked to do, they accused.
The accusers are right. (The Elder of Ziyon has a pictorial version of the issue, here.)
I tend to side with David Horowitz on this. If Israel needed to give a concession to Abbas to get the peace talks going, why not go for a building freeze? The great unspoken hope is that in exchange for Bibi’s choice, the USA is going to sort the Iranian situation out. That’s a big leap of faith by Bibi – if it were the determining factor. If that is not the case, Bibi’s choice is only going to be vindicated by a comprehensive peace package. I am an optimist, but at this stage I cannot see it. I hope for the best, but fear the worst.
I will leave the last word to Mr H:
“It may be that Netanyahu is still betting that the releases will not come to pass — that the talks will collapse before the phases of the prisoner releases are completed and the worst of the offenders are set free. That would seem to be an improbable gamble, however, and would not change the fact that the prime minister has proved ready to do something for which he would unquestionably have castigated any other prime minister.
Oh, and so long as Netanyahu insists on expanding settlements, Israel will be blamed for the collapse of peace talks anyway.”