The release of 26 Palestinians from Israeli jails could have been an event free of criticism and reservations if it was not part of a deal that included making a major concession like the resumption of negotiations without an end to or even freeze of settlement activity. It could have been hailed as a great achievement by the negotiators despite the fact that the prisoners' case was on the table during the first negotiations 20 years ago.
More than one hundred prisoners were arrested before Oslo; that is, before the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. Their continued detention, despite all the rounds of negotiations held since then, indicates clearly the Palestinian Authority's marginalisation of the issue. Given the enormity of the settlement concession made by the PA for the sake of resuming negotiations it appears that the deal is neither honourable nor does it deserve to be listed as a major achievement by Mahmoud Abbas.
There are those who say that this deal as a sedative for the Palestinian public. Negotiations, they claim, have become a goal in themselves and so we must be keen about them, even if it means ignoring Israel's provocative settlement expansion.
Although any Palestinian would rejoice at the release of any prisoner from an Israeli jail, especially when they have spent so many long years behind bars, the release of such a paltry number, after more than 20 years of negotiations, cannot be called an achievement. Nor can the PA boast about it or compare it to the Wafaa Al-Ahrar swap deal, which broke the occupation and forced Israel to release most of its prisoners without being able to dictate or control the course of the agreement. That deal was the culmination of a resistance path during which a lot of Palestinian blood was shed; the latest deal was the product of a long-term process of Palestinian concession after concession. All Israel has to do now is sit back and wait for the PA to offer even more concessions.
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