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‘It’s a game to Israel, seizing and detaining Palestinians’

Hanaa Hasan asks former Hamas lawyer, Stanley Cohen, his opinion on the prisoner exchange talks between Israel and the Gaza Strip authority.
Image of former Hamas lawyer, Stanley Cohen [Istanleycohen.org]
Image of former Hamas lawyer, Stanley Cohen [Istanleycohen.org]

Last week, Israeli media reported that talks for a prisoner exchange were underway between Hamas and Israel; the first such talks to take place since the 2011 Gilad Shalit deal in which 1,027 Palestinians were freed in return for the return of an Israeli soldier.

In a new proposal, Israel is reportedly willing to release an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners, mostly women, children and parliamentarians, in return for video evidence showing three Israeli citizens held in Gaza are alive, and the release of the bodies of two soldiers killed in the 2014 Israeli offensive. Hamas has rejected the proposal, calling instead for some 55 Palestinians to be released, as well as information on other prisoners held by occupying forces.

Whilst Israel has yet to officially confirm reports, American defence attorney Stanley Cohen told MEMO that the timings of these rumours are indicative of Israel’s motivations.

Moussa Abu Marzouk

“Right now there is a tremendous amount of political pressure from the community in Israel about trying to recover the two bodies of soldiers in Gaza. So Israel is going to, for political reasons if for no other purpose, hold out and plant the seeds that negotiations are underway.”

Cohen has long been an advocate for the Palestinian cause. In 1995, he successfully defended Moussa Abu Marzouk, then the leader of Hamas’ political wing, against attempts to extradite him to Israel for trial. Following other prominent cases in the region, he has been banned from entering Israel and many Arab countries.

Read: Palestinian prisoners suffer ‘brutal’ conditions in Israeli jails

He remains an outspoken critic of Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine, and in reaction to the news of potential prisoner swap talks, questions the sincerity of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“In the long term, the problem is a lack of good faith by Israel. There is no doubt in my mind that Netanyahu is exploiting this for a personal political dynamic right now.”

Cohen is also a founding member of a group of international lawyers who have filed lawsuits on behalf of Palestinians against Israel in numerous national jurisdictions as well as before the International Criminal Court. The group has pursued allegations for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and violation of the Geneva Conventions. He evidenced his scepticism of Israel by emphasising the fact that the government is offering to release prisoners who had already been freed six years ago in the Gilad Shalit exchange.

What has to be remembered is that the people that Israel is apparently offering to release are being held in violation of international law. These are not people who have been arrested and charged, convicted and imprisoned.

These are women and children and members of parliament that have been detained in violation of international law, that have not been tried, have not had their day in court and have been denied due process.”

“Once again Israel violates international law and then holds it out as a fig leaf to earn some quick political benefit itself. It’s a game to Israel; seizing and detaining people and trying to do exchanges,” he said.

Read more: Report: Israel detained 388 Palestinians in June

Egypt is reportedly acting as a mediator in the current deal, as it has done many times in the conflict’s tumultuous history. Cohen admitted that Egypt’s influence in the upcoming talks could be beneficial for the region, especially following recent Hamas delegation’s visit to Egypt earlier this month. However, he remained sceptical of how much of a positive role it could play, amid reports that Cairo has also put forward specific demands.

“Even when it plays a neutral role, Egypt does what is best for Egypt. Egypt’s relationship with Israel is very close right now. It has a warmer relationship, for lack of a better word, with Hamas, but to certainly position itself vis a vis Gaza as being in any position of good faith, that [good faith] is lacking.”

He also stressed that Israel was not to be swayed by officials in Cairo:

Egypt cannot exert any influence on Israel. Egypt will do what is best for its position and power, and Israel will try and maximise its relationship with Egypt for its own personal benefit; if they can score some points, they will.

Cohen has dealt with numerous negotiation cases in his 37 years as a lawyer, and in 2014 was involved in an attempt to secure the release of American aid worker Peter Kassig who was held by Daesh. Of all the groups he has worked with, he identified a lack of sincerity on Israel’s part as distinctive in how the government perceives such deals.

What is unique about Israel is that it brings to the table an arrogance that basically says ‘So we have bad faith, that’s who we are, we don’t hide it’.

In light of the current crisis surrounding Al-Aqsa Mosque, Cohen envisaged how the failure of the Israeli government to respond to the request of Palestinians for free access to the mosque could harden Hamas’ stance on the prisoner exchange.

Read: Number of Palestinians MPs imprisoned by Israel rises to 12

“Unlike Fatah, which easily segregates Palestinians in the West Bank and Palestinians in Gaza, Hamas does not. So it’s very clear, and Israel is well aware that if it continues the siege on Al-Aqsa … then Hamas’ position is going to harden even though they are dealing from Gaza. Because there is no separation of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank when it comes to Hamas, or when it comes to resistance movements in Palestine.”

“On the other hand, if Israel was serious about the negotiations they would temper to some degree what they are doing in Al-Aqsa; but Israel tempering simply means they will attack 200 people instead of 2,000.”

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  • John the Savage

    No. Israel is maintaining according to all opinions in international law an occupation in the WB and in Gaza. However they not only refuse to annex either area they make every effort to stop the rest of the world acknowledging a Palestinian state. Many of their parliamentarians including arguably Netanyahu deny the very existence of the Palestinians.

    • Michael Abramov

      I am sorry, I disagree. The sheer volume of corruption in Gaza and the WB does not justify the opinion of the ‘rest of the world’ in condemning Israel. On the other hand, the Likud Party should be trying to get closer to forcing the PA on to the negotiating table. There are always two sides to an argument.

      You have not commented on Stanley Cohen. Would you be happy for him to represent you?

      • John the Savage

        I don’t think any amount of corruption can possibly deny Israel’s indiscriminate bombing and shooting of unarmed civilians, beatings, torture, mass arrests, child detention and nationalist-inspired lying and dehumanization. The Likud can’t force anyone to the negotiating table until it accepts the existence of the Palestinian people and the rule of international law. As for Stanley Cohen, Hamas exists, it represents many Palestinians. They have been forced to moderate their positions over time, and if the world continue to ignore them they have no right to claim they even respect democracy.

        • Michael Abramov

          I again disagree. The victims of the sudden outbursts of demonstrations in Jerusalem is comparable to the riots of 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. They are also comparable to the riotous behaviour of the IRA in Belfast and Londonderry. With every action there is a re-action. The Jerusalem Arabs go beserk at the slightest suggestion of of Israeli security measures. When you have stabbings, beatings and unmitigated violence committed by the ‘oppressed’ there will always be victims. For this, I am sorry.

          Hamas has to go. They are funded by Hezbollah who are in turn funded by Iran. At least we agree on this. It is back to fundamentals. When Hamas agrees to the right of the Jewish people to a homeland, then we can start talking to these mumsers.

          I am not a fan of the Likud, but until the pendulum of democracy swings towards a more moderate Israeli government, we have to manage what we have got.

          • John the Savage

            We know that Israel demand to run the security on the Temple Mount because they are protecting Jewish groups who come to pray. We know that there are many Jews who would destroy Al-Aqsa and rebuild the Temple today if they could. We know that the Israeli police and security forces have often raided the mobs with usual indiscriminate beating and tear gas tactics. Then the whole complex was closed to Muslims for three days. It is bad enough for a Muslim that his sacred buildings are controlled by non-Muslims but that the non-Muslims should stop them from coming in, especially as even after the metal detectors were installed it was not like the Kotel where the operation is smooth and swift but huge throngs of Muslims were forced to pray outside, at the feet of Israeli soldiers. Just imagine how Jews would feel if the Kotel and plaza were suddenly blocked by Arabs who insisted on vetting all entrants. I don’t think they’d shrug and say, “It’s a fair price for the Arab’s security”.

            Hamas’ funding is not important. What is important to me is their advocating of a religious state where non-Muslims have an inferior status and the violence they use to attain their state. But I am willing to condemn all violence which is against international law and human morality, even in response to an oppressive and genocidal occupying force. Those who justify violence on one side or another “as a response” are forced to delve deep into history – into the Bible – to justify their narrative of “But they started it!” And those whose defence of Israel comes from any argument which says “Jewish State” cannot claim that their religion/ethnicity/nationalism is not itself a call to violence. It is this national/religious pride which is preventing the rise of Leftism in Israel, because as long as people see less in common with their Arab Muslim or Christian neighbours than with people at the end of the world who they are never going to meet they will never understand the basic principles of social liberalism.

  • Zach

    Great question! I would like to repeat the same questions to the Zionist apologists.