A Palestinian expert has warned of the danger of repeating the mistakes made by the Palestinian negotiators, especially concerning Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, in signing the Oslo Accords in 1993. The second round of direct talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians is now under way in Egypt's Sharm El Sheikh.
Abdel Nasser Ferwana, an expert on prisoners' affairs and a former prisoner himself, said that the Palestinian people will not accept a repeat of Oslo's mistakes. They are, he claims, hoping for successful negotiations leading to a binding political agreement which will guarantee the release of all the "old prisoners" as a prelude to the unconditional release of all prisoners along a specified timeline.
Mr. Ferwana added that there is no doubt that the signing of the Oslo Accords gave all prisoners in Israeli jails hope that they would be released as a result of a political agreement, but matters like this don't always go to plan.
"Oslo's mistakes made this hope fade for the majority of prisoners," said Mr. Ferwana, "which affected them and their families negatively." In addition, the general conditions resulted in the prisoners' movement plummeting to new organisational, intellectual and cultural lows.
Warning of the danger of repeating the same mistakes in the latest phase of the peace process, Mr. Ferwana claimed that this could have "severe consequences for Palestinians in general, and prisoners and their families in particular", even more than those which followed Oslo.
The Oslo Declaration of Principles, which was signed on 13th September 1993, did not include any commitment for the Israeli occupation authorities to release prisoners. Indeed, it didn't make any reference to the prisoners in any way, leaving the matter to the goodwill of the Israelis. It took later agreements to tackle and rectify Oslo's shortcomings. This, said Mr. Ferwana, has allowed Israel to manipulate the prisoners' issue as a bargaining chip against the Palestinians, dividing prisoners along factional lines in the process. The Israeli stance has also seen attempts to take the prisoners out of the national political dialogue and classify them as a humanitarian issue subject entirely to the whims of the occupation authorities. Palestinian demands and priorities have not been taken into consideration, he added.
At the start of the second phase of the direct talks, Abdel Nasser Ferwana called upon the Palestinian delegation to assess Oslo objectively, learn from previous mistakes with regards to Palestinian prisoners and utilise the expertise of specialists to negotiate beneficial terms for them.
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