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After Israel cancels prisoner release, PA turns to UN in response


By Jan Walraven - April 02, 2014
TAGS:
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [negotiations] [Peace Process] [UN]

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Tuesday after he signed a request to join 15 United Nations agencies | AFP-JIJI

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed documents requesting membership in 15 United Nations institutions on Tuesday 2 April in an attempt to gain Palestinian statehood outside the auspices of the current peace negotiations. In doing so, Abbas broke his initial promise, made as part of the agreement which brought the two sides back to the negotiation table back in July 2013. Abbas’ unilateral move comes in response to Israel's refusal to comply with its own promise, made in that same agreement, to release a fourth and last group of Palestinian prisoners. 

Response to canceled prisoner release

In a televised speech Tuesday evening, Abbas said that the requests to join UN institutions are "not a move against America, or any other party - it is our right, and we agreed to suspend it for nine months." The announcement led U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to cancel his visit to Abbas, planned for Wednesday 2 April, which was aimed at finding an agreement on a deal to extend the peace talks beyond the initial 29 April deadline. 

The deal, according to Barak Ravid of Haaretz, was to include the following: 1.) Palestinians would agree to extend the negotiations by a year – into 2015 – and avoid unilateral moves at the UN; 2.) Israel will release the fourth round of prisoners that it failed to release on Saturday 29 March; 3.) Israel will release another 400 Palestinian prisoners “without blood on their hands” who are about to finish their sentences; 4.) Israel will freeze most of its settlement construction, with the exception of East Jerusalem; 5.) The U.S. will release Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard before the upcoming Passover holiday.

With the 29 April deadline nearby, a positive ending to this round of peace talks now seems very far off. The PA's move is viewed as a clear response to Israel’s unwillingness to release the fourth and last group of 26 Palestinian prisoners. It's also an indication of how little faith Palestinians have in a positive outcome from the peace talks. The prisoner release was already postponed nine times. Israel claims it is not bound by its initial promise because the peace talks have had no meaningful result.

In a first response on Tuesday night, Kerry insisted that it was completely premature to draw any kind of judgment, certainly any final judgment, Reuters reported. Kerry also made clear that he would pursue his efforts to end the conflict.

Because Abbas didn't request to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), American officials believe that he is not trying to completely collapse the peace talks, but instead is only using some of the little leverage he has left, the New York Times reported. Israel’s largest fear is the possibility of Palestinian membership in the ICC, as this could lead to an international court case against their settlement enterprise in the West Bank.

It is worth noting that Abbas did sign the Fourth Geneva Convention, which has jurisdiction over the international laws regarding war and occupation. 

Increased pressure

With its new unilateral approach towards state recognition through UN institutions, the PA is signaling its clear discontent with the status quo of the current talks. Some believe that by stepping forward in the UN, the PA will encourage both Israel an the US to be more genuine partners in the peace process. 

Initial responses by members of the Israeli cabinet, however, indicate that Abbas' move might have the opposite result. Ma'an News Agency quoted Israeli Tourism Minister Uzi Landau saying that by turning to the UN, the Palestinians "will pay a heavy price," threatening that Israel might apply sovereignty over areas in the West Bank that "will clearly be part of the State of Israel in any future solution," in addition to hurting the Palestinian economy by blocking financial aid.

On Tuesday the Palestine Monitor talked to Palestinian MP Mustafa Barghouti, who stressed that Israel’s threats are of no concern and that placing faith in the current round of negotiations is no longer possible, as they are being used to cover-up Israel’s settlement expansion plans.

On the same day, the Israeli Construction and Housing Ministry approved a tender for more than 700 settler homes in Jerusalem’s southern Gilo neighborhood, located beyond the Green Line. Construction in this region to the south of Jerusalem could in time lead to the isolation of Bethlehem from Jerusalem due to the existence of several large and steadily  growing settlements between the two cities, essentially making the prospect of a continuous Palestinian state impossible.

 

 

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