Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has laid down a fresh condition for restarting indirect peace talks: Israeli must first free 2,000 jailed Palestinian terrorists. debkafile's Middle East sources report that Abbas raised this new hurdle after manufacturing an accident that forced the US president's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, to chase him to the Jordanian capital, Amman, on Monday, March 22.
Abbas' list includes 323 prisoners sentenced to long terms for brutal terrorist offences before the 1993 Oslo partial peace accords were signed. Israel has refused to trade this group – even to obtain the release of its kidnapped soldier Gilead Shalit from Hamas. The Palestinian leader is perfectly aware of this. Therefore, Monday night, US and Israeli officials concluded finally that Abbas, after stalling for more than a year, remained determined to undermine all prospects of renewed peace negotiations on one pretext or another.
While achieving this purpose, Abbas also challenges his rivals in Hamas for not demanding enough for the Israeli soldier.
By raising the ante for talks to an intolerable level, the Palestinian leader avoided having to give the US envoy an answer and sent George Mitchell off with yet another failed mission.
In Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of Israel facing "hard choices" for peace, when she addressed the AIPAC annual conference Monday.
In fact some of those hard choices have already been forced on Israel.
While prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the conference that Jerusalem was Israel's capital – not a settlement – and that the quarter of million Jews living in suburbs built after 1967 would remain in Israel in any future peace settlement – he quietly he set in motion bureaucratic measures for an almost total freeze on construction in East Jerusalem, in response to arm-twisting by the Obama administration and ahead of his meeting Tuesday night with the US president.
Before that meeting, Netanyahu explained these and other conciliatory measures to Secretary Clinton.
Constantly forced into the position of giver to keep the Mitchell mission afloat, he told the conference that compared with Israel's many concessions for the sake of peace talks, the Palestinians have done nothing except lay down obstructive prior terms and conduct a smear campaign against Israel around the world.
It was time for the Palestinians to start giving too, he stressed.
Our sources report that Palestinian delaying tactics are clearly aimed at using the Obama administration's willingness to squeeze Israel for more advantages before committing themselves to talks, while the Netanyahu government, following Barak's lead, places its emphasis on placating the Obama administration, which in turn is forcing Israel to give ground to Palestinian demands, however insatiable.
A year ago, the US president declared Jerusalem was Israel's capital, never to be divided. Today, he is pushing Israel to settle for a repartitioned Jerusalem to provide a future Palestinian state with a capital.
When Netanyahu first agreed to a 10-month freeze on West Bank construction, Clinton praised him for ceding more than any of his predecessors for the sake of peace.
The Israeli strategy of adapting to changing US policies and interests without solid bedrock of its own principles and values is untenable and bound to break down whenever it comes to the crunch.