As the peace talks continue, within improbable absolutes such as a nine month timeframe in which a "final status deal" is expected to be reached, Maariv newspaper reported Netanyahu's compromise with the Jewish Home Party in order to preserve the coalition. In return for keeping the government's legitimacy Netanyahu, it is claimed, has promised more settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The news is still disputed in Israeli newspapers. According to reports, Jewish Home's Housing Minister Uri Ariel negotiated with Netanyahu over the consolidation of the settlement enterprise, which ensures the approval of thousands of new settlement buildings within the coming months. The news was contradicted by Ariel's spokesman, Arik Ben Shimon, who said that no such deal had been discussed.
Jewish Home ministers have voted against the decision to release pre-Oslo Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, with Naftali Bennett once again provoking outrage over his suggestion to kill Arab "terror suspects", pointing out that "I've killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there's no problem with that." This statement has also been disputed in the Israeli media, with Bennett's spokesperson declaring that it was taken out of context; it was supposed to be a metaphor of effectiveness rather than imprisoning Palestinians and thus allowing the possibility of their release.
The talks do not include a precondition regarding a settlement freeze, which makes the allegation of further settlement construction highly probable. Settlement building has been used as a form of collective punishment against Palestinians as was highlighted by Israel's reaction to Palestine's status upgrade at the United Nations. The US has also hinted at further settlement expansion, declaring that efforts had previously been invested into achieving a settlement freeze but further negotiations along this line were not part of the current agenda: "It would be fair to say that you are likely to see Israeli settlement continue."
So far, the talks have been overshadowed by the frenzy ignited upon confirmation of the pre-Oslo prisoners' release, hailed by international leaders as a positive indication of the sincerity behind the negotiations. However, the fact that settlement construction has been eliminated from the agenda reveals the underlying trend of Israeli impunity. Despite the construction of Israeli settlements being deemed illegal under international law, it seems as if the negotiators involved in the current peace talks are unwilling to tackle the issue of Israel's evasion of accountability, let alone a tangible reversal of the illegalities inflicted upon Palestinians. John Kerry has insisted upon confidentiality, thus restricting media coverage of the events, while Tony Blair has embarked upon the unconvincing rhetoric of hope. "The fact that direct final status talks are starting again sends an immense signal of hope across the region and wider world. There is no doubt that the road to peace will be hard. But the consequences of leaving the peace process in disrepair would be so much harder," insisted the Quartet's Middle East envoy.
The only concrete observation so far has been the tendency to shield Israel from being held accountable for its illegal occupation. A "final status deal" seems to be no more than an illusion, considering the fact that violations of international law should not be open for debate and subject to compromises. Since when have criminals been allowed to "negotiate" their way out of jail?
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