The peace process circus continued this week, as officials from Israel met in Jerusalem with negotiators from its Palestinian Authority puppet regime Wednesday night.
Meeting in secrecy at the dead of night, it now looks as though the talks are due to become a weekly fixture for the next nine months.
The meeting took place hours after a first round of Palestinian political prisoners had been released from Israeli jails. Twenty-six were released Wednesday, with 78 more due to be released later.
But despite marketing of the release as a "goodwill gesture," facts presented by a Palestinian prisoners' rights group give serious reason for pause.
According to the Ramallah-based group Addameer, these prisoners in fact should have been released under previous agreements that Israel reneged on: "Now, many of them serving more than 25 years in prison, and some of them with their sentences almost completed, are expected to be released in phases over the next year."
These are prisoners whose incarceration dated way back. Many have been in jail since before the whole Oslo "peace process" started 20 years ago. And some were near the end of their jail terms, and would have been released soon anyway.
The only real purpose here is to provide a fig leaf for the supine Palestinian Authority in front of its loyalists. Despite having repeatedly demanded a settlement freeze, the Palestinian Authority has now gone back to negotiations even while it continues its colonisation of the West Bank.
Israel showed how insincere it was about setting up a Palestinian state in the West Bank by using the occasion of new talks to announce the building of hundreds more settlement housing units. All the while, America continues to send billions in military aid to Israel, while laughably pretending it is a neutral peace broker.
Israel's own housing minister, Uri Ariel is himself a settler who lives the West Bank colony of Kfar Adumim, between Jerusalem and Jericho.
Indeed, the main Israeli negotiator is "justice" minister Tzipi Livni. She has in the past has had to skip the UK to avoid arrest on suspicion on war crimes. In 2011 the Palestine Papers revealed that she once said: "I am a lawyer … But I am against law — international law in particular. Law in general." In her own words: Israel's justice minister is "against law."
That is the real background of the prisoner release.
Israel's military dictatorship
Perhaps more to the point is the overall structural control. Israel occupies the West Bank – a brutal military dictatorship that holds all Palestinian life there in its hands. Israel could re-arrest any of these ex-prisoners at any time, and face zero consequences. The Palestinian Authority has no real authority; it is a puppet regime, toothless in the face of Israel's abuses.
This is not a matter of speculation either since, as Addameer documents, Israel has form in re-arresting previously-released prisoners. The most recent prisoner exchange on 18 October 2011 shows as much.
You probably remember that then, 1027 prisoners were released in two phases in exchange for a single Israeli occupation soldier that Palestinian resistance fighters had captured back in 2006. That deal was brokered between Hamas and the Israeli government.
However, in the two months after the first phase of the release, Addameer says it documented nearly 470 arrests across the West Bank. This first phase had released 477 prisoners.
So Israel essentially re-filled its prisons with almost as many as it had just freed. This sent a clear message. And what of those who were released?
Some went back to jail – and we even don't know what for, because the kangaroo courts Israel's military operates for Palestinians only in the West Bank routinely rely on secret evidence (Israeli Jews who live in settlements in the West Bank are tried under Israeli civilian law – this is the very definition of apartheid).
Addameer again: "At least 12 prisoners who were re-arrested after their release in the October 2011 prisoner exchange are currently facing the possibility of serving the remainder of their previous sentences."
The Israeli cabinet's decision to release these prisoners reportedly states: "The State of Israel reserves the right to take any means necessary against any of the released prisoners if they commit any terrorist and hostile activities as well as returning them to serve the remainder of their sentence".
The meaning of "hostile activities" here is sufficiently vague as to allow Israel to arrest anyone it feels like. And Israel uses the term "terrorism" loosely too.
We learn from Alon Harel and Yael Berda's essay in Threat, an important book published by Pluto Press in 2011, that the Israeli definition of "security prisoners" is not just those who engage in armed struggle. Palestinian political activists who do not use violence are also classified as such.
Berda notes, "It is actually surprising how, under the harsh classification regimes of the security threat, many Palestinians have chosen nonviolent political and social action, even though it carries with it similar consequences to the violent actions" (p. 54).
In reality, the Israeli secret police – the Shin Bet – decides who is a "security prisoner". Known by its formal title the General Security Services (GSS), the Shin Bet runs a system that is "constructed and applied administratively by the GSS alone" (p. 52).
The racist Israeli minister Naftali Bennett recently called a European Union decision not to fund illegal West Bank settlements an "economic terror attack". Bennett is the minister who more recently said , "I've killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there's no problem with that." Quite an insight into Israel's idea of "peace" talks.
Over 5000 Palestinian prisoners are currently held by Israel, including 136 under administrative detention – without charge or trial. Until Israel ceases its practice of kidnapping and holding Palestinians hostages as so many poker chips to be bargained over, there can be no real peace.
Asa Winstanley is an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, is an investigative journalist who lives in London.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.