Despite Posturing, Peace Talks Likely to Continue
JERUSALEM, Israel -- While no one can predict how the twists and turns of the U.S.-brokered peace talks will turn out, there's an underlying consensus they'll continue. By anyone's standards, this has been a particularly tumultuous week.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who's clocked thousands of miles in shuttle diplomacy, cancelled a return trip Wednesday during which he would have met with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. That was to have followed back-to-back meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday evening and Tuesday morning.
By Tuesday afternoon, Netanyahu's office released the principal components of the proposed deal designed to keep the talks going until January 2015. They included the release of the fourth group of 26 Arab terrorists, 14 of whom are Israeli Arabs, plus another 400 women and teenage prisoners without "blood on their hands."
Additionally, Netanyahu agreed to restrict construction in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) by not issuing tenders for new construction but continuing what is already underway. Jerusalem neighborhoods are not included in the building freeze.
The trump card is the proposed U.S. release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard before the Passover holiday begins at sundown Monday, April 14.
Pollard has been serving a life sentence, which included seven years in solitary confinement, for spying for Israel. Despite the disproportionately long sentence, his deteriorating health and a lengthy list of requests by leading international figures, successive U.S. presidents have refused to grant him clemency.
In a briefing Wednesday, Israel's Channel 2 Chief Diplomatic Correspondent Udi Segal told journalists Netanyahu has made "some significant gestures and compromises" since the talks began last July.
"Netanyahu understands, he's realistic enough to know that even though he made some points in this round, Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] will go to the international arena and in the end, the world will blame Israel for any failure," Segal said.
Nonetheless, Segal believes it's in everyone's best interests to continue the talks.
"There's a fair chance that Abu Mazen will go for this deal," Segal said. "I can't predict, but I don't think he has much to gain by breaking the rules right now."
Meanwhile, P.A. television featured live coverage of Abbas, with chief negotiator Saeb Erekat next to him, signing applications for membership in 15 international organizations. Abbas had agreed to postpone more unilateral statehood appeals until the end of April, when the nine-month timeframe for this round of talks ends.
Both Kerry and Netanyahu shrugged off the Palestinian Authority's gesture as posturing.
Asked if the talks serve as a buffer for Israel against international sanctions, Segal said there's no doubt they're a "strategic Israeli weapon against international pressure, especially from Europe.
"Netanyahu gained a lot of points in this round of talks," he said. "The American side -- people in the State Department and even in the White House -- are starting to understand that Netanyahu is not the problem."