Sunday, December 29, 2013

A new Variable in the Pollard Equation

by Shlomo Cesana

Did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu add another variable this week to the diplomatic equation? His statement, after learning that the Americans were listening in on phone calls and intercepting the emails of senior Israeli officials, among them the prime minister and the defense minister, that the time had come for Jonathan Pollard's release, perhaps injected a new element.

This is not about Israel freeing imprisoned Palestinian terrorists, despite Pollard's ongoing incarceration, but rather it comes at a time when the Americans have spied on us here at home.

All of this is happening against the backdrop of the release of Palestinian prisoners -- murderers with blood on their hands. If there is no change at the last minute, in a few days Ibrahim Juma and Suliman Abu Harbish, who murdered Rachel Weiss and her three little children (Ephraim, Netanel and Raphael), will be set free. 

In 1988, these two terrorists threw firebombs at a bus travelling from Tiberias to Jerusalem. The bus was attacked in Jericho and caught fire. Rachel, her three sons and soldier David Delarosa all perished inside. Juma and Harbish are only two of 26 terrorists to be freed in the third prisoner release phase (of four), which were agreed upon at the onset of the renewed negotiations with the Palestinians.

The previous phase of the prisoner release was accompanied by an internal government clash initiated by Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett, who opposed the measure. Bennett "forgot" that he is a member of the government and accused the prime minister of freeing prisoners when he could prevent it. 

It appears, however, that this time the message, at least within the coalition, has been received. This week on one of the local radio shows, Tourism Minister Uzi Landau, one of the more hawkish government representatives, was asked if the government intends to go through with the third phase of the prisoner release. He made it clear that the terrorists would be released as planned. 

With four months left until their expiration date, the talks are at an impasse. All officials in the know concede that the chances of the talks failing are greater than the chances of success. On the ground, the trend is already discernible. Since the talks began in July, the amount of terrorist-related incidents has doubled; six Israelis have been killed. Is this merely a matter of Hamas and Fatah divvying up their territory as they push toward the same goal -- the expulsion of the Israeli occupation as they call it -- or is it an attempt by the extremists to torpedo the diplomatic process? 

The pressure is now on Israel. The demand is to present a map with the borders of a Palestinian state and to accept the security principles outlined in the final status agreement. Netanyahu is not prepared to put a map on the table for the time being. If I present a map, he says to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, what other cards will I have left to play? Like Kerry, Netanyahu is not interested in the talks breaking down and is therefore agreeable to a one-year extension of the deadline. A conflict that has lasted for nearly 100 years will not end in nine months, Netanyahu has said in the past.

As for the security principles, Kerry presented a plan prepared by General John Allen. The plan, however, is problematic for Israel for two main reasons: Control over the Jordan Valley and the option of operating inside Palestinian cities.

As for the Jordan Valley, the Americans reject the claim of Israeli sovereignty, meaning our communities there. According to the Americans, an Israeli military presence there is sufficient and that, too, for only a limited period of time. Netanyahu does not accept the position that Jordan can be the buffer to defend Israel on its eastern flank. He believes that the existing border needs to stay the same, and that Israel's borders must only be guarded by the Israel Defense Forces. The defense establishment's demand is for operational freedom to combat terrorism. 

In the meantime, there is no agreement over the plan. "Kerry wants to win the Nobel Peace Prize. It won't happen at the expense of Israel's security," a senior Israeli official said this week. "There will not be an agreement at any cost."

Kerry is talking about a "framework deal": The Palestinians will recognize Israel as a Jewish state and Israel will present a map with Palestinian state borders. At this stage Netanyahu has requested not to present such a map. The concern is that Kerry's proposal will be cemented as the position both sides will have to adopt. 

This week in the Knesset, one MK recalled a conversation he had with the prime minister. The MK was interested in "the question of stamina throughout the negotiations," in his words. Netanyahu answered him: "I am prepared to be flexible and I am prepared for a real agreement, but I won't be diminished by the Americans, even at the cost of a clash."

Shlomo Cesana


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