The scheduled release this week of 25 Palestinian prisoners, as part of the prime minister’s acquiescence to the Palestinians’ conditions for renewing the peace talks, is, as expected, being met with public and political protest.
To calm opposition to the move on the right, the government hastened to announce that the release would coincide with the publication of tenders for the construction of hundreds of new homes in West Bank settlements. Why should there be any connection between building in the territories and freeing prisoners? Why should a confidence-building measure whose purpose is to facilitate the negotiations with the Palestinians require an immediate and dangerous counter-operation that could jeopardize the talks? But in Israel - where every terror attack requires an equal and opposite reaction in the form of an “appropriate Zionist response,” such as construction in the settlements, as a matter of principle - the release of prisoners, like the entire negotiating process, is seen as a terror attack - and thus in need of retaliation.
Israel clings to the supposedly legitimate argument that the government did not promise to suspend building in the settlements as a condition of conducting negotiations. This is accurate, but it should be remembered that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is the one who agreed to waive this condition on the - completely mistaken - assumption that the Israeli government would at least want to appear to be interested in advancing the negotiations and, therefore, not jeopardize them over such a sensitive issue. But Israel, which takes leave of its senses when the Palestinian Authority carries out unilateral actions, does the same thing, creating facts on the ground in an area whose future is supposed to be determined in these very negotiations.
One can disagree with the decision to release prisoners, one can oppose it or take legal action to prevent the move, but there is an enormous gap between a decision that cannot affect the outcome of the negotiations and building homes whose sole purpose is to buttress the fortifications against a withdrawal from the territories.
In this context, it is also difficult to understand the vow of silence taken by the midwives to the talks in Washington, who, when briefed in advance about the tenders, treated them like a necessary bill to be paid in exchange for the prisoners.
There can be no legitimate grounds for building new apartments in the settlements. As long as there is no agreement with the Palestinians on their future, the settlements are illegal growths and their expansion adds insult to injury.
The prime minister would do well to recognize that the peace talks are with the Palestinians, not the settlers.
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