As the Israeli government announced the building of some 1200 new settlement units in the occupied West Bank and Israeli housing minister, Uri Ariel, laid down the cornerstone of a new Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem, Palestinian negotiators are wondering what to do next.
The US has been sponsoring gruelling efforts to revive the peace talks between Palestinian negotiators and Israel, which have stalled during the last three years. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has visited the region at least six times within a matter of weeks exerting huge efforts to do so.
The Palestinian negotiators have been insisting on preconditions, such as the releasing of Palestinian prisoners, who have been behind bars, prior to the Oslo Agreement, and the freezing of Israeli settlements. Kerry has convinced Israel to fulfil these two pre-conditions.
Although, Israel agreed to release a number of Palestinian prisoners as the Palestinian negotiators were not included in the committee that chose the would-be free prisoners, an Israeli committee chose 26 prisoners. They did not include prominent Palestinian leaders or those with prison terms due to end within months or a few years. In addition, all released prisoners will pledge not to be involved in any activities against Israel.
A Palestinian Authority official spoke anonymously to the Israeli Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper and described how Israel ‘plays’ with the terms of the deal, based on “numbers not names.” However, the Palestinian Authority insists that it has achieved an important deal.
The other longstanding pre-condition was completely ignored after leaked information revealed that there was an “unannounced” lifting on the freeze of construction of new settlements. Palestinian negotiators had agreed to go for the first meeting with the Israeli side to break the ice, on this condition.
It seems that the Israelis held their breath for one week until the meeting had been successfully conducted and before resuming the construction bids of new settlements on a larger scale. It even set up a new settlement in occupied Jerusalem. Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat told Aljazeera, that the “US told us that Israeli settlement was illegitimate” suggesting that Eerkat had believed Israel would not resume settlement construction. He went on to tell Reuters and other media outlets that he was “optimistic about the talks.”
The Palestinian negotiators said that the new settlements could negatively affect the peace talks’ efforts. John Kerry insisted that there was no time to waste and urged Erekat to stop talking and attend the negotiations, due to take place tomorrow.
Whilst in Colombia, Kerry said, “It (the settlement announcement) underscores the importance of getting to the table, getting to the table quickly.” The question now is, what’s next? Erekat is attending the second round of peace talks with Livni, no gains will be made, and Israel will have more time.
The US and Israel know that if the Palestinians start negotiation talks, it becomes very difficult for them to stop even if they do not make a single advancement. They know that Palestinian Authority regards any movement towards the peace process as a big victory, while in fact it is actually an immense defeat. They also know that the PA is going alone to the peace talks, without the support of any Palestinian partners. Therefore, a decision to suspend or stop the peace talks will not be easy because it will highlight just how little support they actually have.
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