That the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations appear on the verge of collapse should surprise no one given the yawning gap between the two sides and the persistent hostility of the Palestinian Authority to any significant commitment to a resolution of the decades-old conflict.
The talks repeated past mistakes from the start last July. The most notable blunder involved what the respective parties were asked to do to get back to the bargaining table.
The Israelis were required to make concessions, releasing terrorists from jail, which the Jewish state did. The Palestinians were asked only to not escalate tensions and undermine the fragile process. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas this week opted for escalation, announcing he was signing up for 15 United Nations treaties or organizations. This was yet another unilateral move to expand U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state, a tactic opposed by the United States as well as Israel.
The negotiations were launched after a five-year lapse at the singular insistence of Secretary of State John Kerry but without enthusiasm from Jerusalem or Ramallah. Kerry originally envisioned reaching a deal in nine months but, faced with the obstacles that frustrated previous talks, he scaled back his goal to producing a framework for carrying negotiations beyond an April 29 deadline.
Israel agreed to release 104 prisoners, angering and distressing families who had lost loved ones to Palestinian terrorism. Given the history of Palestinian delay and recalcitrance in past talks, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reasonably decided to free the killers in four batches to hold Abbas at the bargaining table. As it became increasingly clear Abbas had no interest in keeping the process going beyond April 29, the Israelis understandably balked at releasing the last batch of 26 prisoners.
To stave off collapse, Kerry turned to what can only be described as an act of desperation. He offered up the release of Jonathan Pollard, imprisoned for 30 years for spying against the United States on behalf of Israel. Kerry proposed freeing Pollard in exchange for Israel releasing the 26 prisoners plus 400 more and imposing a partial freeze on Israeli building in the disputed territories of the West Bank. Abbas would then agree to extending talks into 2015.
Even U.S. officials who favor freeing Pollard say he should be released, not to keep talks going, but to gain a final status concession from Israel.
Pollard’s freedom has long been a goal of Israeli governments, but U.S. presidents have consistently refused to release him. The White House has said only that President Barack Obama hasn’t made a decision on Kerry’s idea. Just hours before the secretary of state was to meet with Abbas to discuss Kerry’s offer, Abbas resorted to his U.N. tactic.
Even with long odds, Kerry may yet find a way to keep the talks going.
Despite Western media and officials consistently labeling Abbas as “moderate,” there’s little if any evidence he’s serious about peace. He won’t even stop the venomous incitement against Israel so prominent in Palestinian media and schools.
This propaganda is spewed right under the nose of the United Nations. An investigation by the Near East Policy Research Center found that Palestinian Authority textbooks used in 350 schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip run by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency declare that “Jews have no rights to Israel, including Jewish holy sites,” and “call for violent struggle rather than peace.”
No wonder Israelis don’t see a partner for peace in Abbas. The wonder is that Kerry does.