Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas did not announce his walkout from the negotiations with Israel or directly turn down the package of far-reaching Israeli concessions which US Secretary of State John Kerry assembled with Binyamin Netanyahu early Wednesday, April 1. He simply turned his back on the commitment he made ahead of the talks to refrain from unilateral applications to UN bodies while they were in progress. As soon as the US Secretary flew off to Brussels, he sent out applications for “the independent Palestinian state” to join 12 UN agencies as members.
This was after the Palestinian leader upped his price for meeting Kerry’s request to extend peace diplomacy from April up until the end of the year. He demanded that Israel raise the number of 26 Palestinians due to be released from jail this weekend, to 1,000. They must also include Israeli Arabs.
He was not satisfied with Israel’s offer to free another 400 terrorists and accept a partial settlement freeze; Israel must release the same number as it traded for Gilead Shalit, the Israeli hostage held by Hamas, he said.
Abbas further insisted on top Palestinian terrorist operatives serving sentences for multiple murder be on the list of released pirsoners, including the notorious Marwan Barghouti (who is serving six life sentences for six murders), Ahmad Saadat, (who plotted the assassination of the Israeli cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi) and the return to their homes of terrorists exiled as too dangerous to leave at large in the Palestinian territories.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu tried to calm the anger in his cabinet and the Israeli public over the bottomless Palestinian capacity for extortion. His associates said that he shared John Kerry’s belief that buying another nine months for the negotiations would give the US-led peace track a good shot at running full course.
However, Mahmoud Abbas placed deliberate obstacles in their path by holding the diplomatic process hostage to continual Israeli concessions.
debkafile’s sources report that the US Secretary’s plan to visit Ramallah and Jerusalem Wednesday, April 2, to tie up the last ends of his new package, is now up in the air, the subject of frantic consultations in Washington.
The prospect has faded for the Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard’s early release after serving 30 years of a life sentence. President Barack Obama, unwilling to be associated with the imminent collapse of yet another US-sponsored Middle East peace effort, made it clear that he has not made up his mind about Pollard’s release.
Later Tuesday, informed US sources said that it would be a long time before Secretary Kerry agreed to return to the region.
This finale followed a rapid succession of somersaults in the fate of the Middle East peace talks during Wednesday, as debkafile reported earlier:.
US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Brussels Tuesday morning, April 1, after two rounds of talks with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, and missing out on a meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. US officials reported that Kerry is now aiming for a major breakthrough in the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks by holding out to Israel the ultimate prize of Jonathan Pollard’s early release.
It was not clear what he had achieved before he left.
When he landed in Israel Monday night, Kerry brought Israel the fresh Palestinian demand for a tenfold increase in the number of Palestinian security prisoners listed for the fourth round of releases – 420 instead of the original 30 – to include also Israeli Arabs, which a large number of ministers oppose.
Israel was also required to accept a freeze on settlement construction on the West Bank as well as Jerusalem.
These concessions were the Palestinians’ price for accepting the extension of talks up until the end of this year.
Kerry agreed to put the squeeze on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu yet again. He even dangled the ultimate inducement of the possible release (no promises) of Jonathan Pollard, who has served 30 years of a life sentence in a US jail for spying for Israel.
Netanyahu has been fighting for Pollard’s freedom for more than 16 years, hoping that repeated US-initiated peace negotiations with the Palestinians would provide an opening. He came close to success in 1998 when President Bill Clinton promised to release him, but then recanted in the face of furious CIA objections.
Netanyahu explained that this US concession would provide his only hope of saving his government coalition and standing up to popular resentment for surrendering to Palestinian extortion beyond accepted bounds.
Administrations sources in Washington confirmed that the Pollard case would be open to discussion on certain conditions – i.e. further and bigger concessions to the Palestinians. The convicted spy, now 59, they said, would be eligible for a reprieve in November 2015. This had somewhat tempered the US intelligence agency’s resistance to his early release.
Appreciating the high value of the Pollard card, the US Secretary tried using it as a lever to extract a really major Israel concession, beyond even the latest Palestinians demands. He pushed Netanyahu hard for a far-reaching step capable of generating a dramatic breakthrough for the US peace effort he is leading.
He turned to Netanyahu because Abbas is frozen immovably in demand mode.
So instead of shuttling back and forth between Jerusalem and Ramallah, Kerry spent most of Monday night and again Tuesday morning leaning heavily on Netanyahu for an ultimate concession for the ultimate prize of a freed Pollard.
He faced two major obstacles: If he caved in to the US Secretary’s wishes, Netanyahu knew he couldn’t prevent the fall of his government – even if Pollard was thrown into the mix (which is still a big if). This was one cabinet crisis he could not be sure of weathering even after surviving into his third term as head of a coalition government.
The other stumbling block was that the Palestinians, fully conscious of Kerry’s objective and his pressure on Netanyahu, saw their chance to continually up their stipulations for more Israeli concessions as the price for keeping the talks afloat.
Those obstacles were still in force when the US Secretary flew out to Brussels Tuesday morning after a second round of talks with Netanyahu. What he managed to do was to shift the focus of US-Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to new terrain – American. President Barack Obama will be asked to consider making a contribution to the peace track on whose success his secretary of state has gambled heavily, by signing the papers for Jonathan Pollard’s release and then preparing it for consumption in America. Netanyahu will also be asked for some fast explaining about the price Israel is paying for him in Palestinian currency.
Pollard now has his first real chance of freedom.
But this is far from glad tidings for Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy. Kerry’s peace effort has demonstrated the truism established by all its forerunners that it is only kept alive by successful Palestinian blackmail. In all former cases, this formula has brought peace diplomacy to demise.