Eran Wolkowski - Netanyahu and Palestinians - 18102011
Photo by Eran Wolkowski
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It is easy to guess what will go through the minds of the members of the family of a Fatah prisoner when they watch Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (and Sara? ) having the honor of the first embrace with Gilad Shalit (why not the parents? ), and hear the cries of joy of the neighbors whose son, a Hamas prisoner, has returned home: "Why, instead of traveling the world and spending time in hotels, don't the nerds from the Muqata [the Palestinian Authority headquarters] kidnap an Israeli soldier and exchange him for our son? That's the only language those Israelis understand." The families of veteran prisoners probably remember how Bibi Netanyahu relates to the release of terrorists when their organization is not holding an Israeli hostage and the deal does not include a much-covered melodrama.

Next Sunday will be the 13th anniversary of the Wye River Accord, which bears the signatures of Prime Minister Netanyahu (during his first term ), then-head of the Palestine Liberation Organization Yasser Arafat, and then-U.S. President Bill Clinton. The agreement was designed to open a new chapter in the relations between Israel and the Palestinians, including the transfer of additional territories to the control of the Palestinian Authority and an opening of negotiations over the final status agreement.

At Netanyahu's request, it was decided at the time to establish a tripartite committee to prevent incitement (for months Netanyahu has been ignoring the proposal of PA President Mahmoud Abbas to renew its activity ). In order to improve the atmosphere in the territories and to recruit public support, Arafat asked Israel to free several hundred terrorists who were imprisoned in Israel. "I myself gave those people the order to carry out their activities," he said. "It's unacceptable for me to be sitting here next to you shaking hands, at a time when those people are rotting in prison."

After prolonged negotiations, Netanyahu agreed to release 450 prisoners. The Palestinians took for granted that he was referring to security prisoners, particularly those who had served long sentences. They were sure that the criteria for releasing prisoners that had been defined in the interim agreement were valid for the new agreement. "We didn't imagine that the list of released prisoners would include mainly car thieves, rapists, illegal residents, and similar criminals," said Hisham Abdel Razek, who was the minister for prisoner affairs at the time, on Monday. Only the fury against senior PA members was stronger than the anger at the Israeli government. Demonstrators threw stones at Mahmoud Abbas' house, and in the security prisons there were riots. Netanyahu, who as always received support from American coordinator Dennis Ross, stuck to his guns.

"It's a real shame that we have to kidnap a soldier and hold him in a hiding place for years in order to attain the release of our friends from East Jerusalem and from Israel," says Abdel Razek. "You would do well to understand that as far as we're concerned, abandoning them is no less than a betrayal of our fellow travelers." Although the Shalit deal is being credited to Hamas, Abdel Razek emphasizes that he shares in the joy of the released prisoners. Our joy will be more complete, the Palestinian peace camp activist adds immediately, if Israel allows President Mahmoud Abbas to help choose the 550 prisoners to be released in the next stage of the Shalit deal. An embrace with Abbas can be arranged for him.

Outposts and prisoners

Netanyahu's decision to form a team to examine ways to approve outposts and settlements that were built on private Palestinian land is reminiscent of the joke about the lifeguard who reprimanded a guy who urinated in the swimming pool. "But everyone does it," said the man innocently. "But not from the diving board," said the lifeguard. A new report written by Ziv Stahl from the research department of Yesh Din-Volunteers for Human Rights, describes a long-term method on the part of the authorities of turning a blind eye, and silently permitting building violations and agricultural takeovers that are designed to expand the settlements and the outposts. In quite a few cases this was done by stealing private Palestinian lands.

In a discussion that took place last January, regarding a petition against the construction of five residential buildings in the settlement of Beit El on the land of a Palestinian, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch said: "We deliberate over many such cases, and of all the declarations about the order of priorities in enforcement, we did not see that orders were implemented in a single case. There is no priority because nothing is implemented."

Beinisch was incorrect. The settlers exploit the silent consent of the authorities and the weakness of the government in order to establish new facts on the ground. For example, a Palestinian from the village of Ein Yabrud turned to the State Prosecutor's Office with a demand to implement demolition orders for nine houses in the settlement of Ofra that were built on the village's land, and the enforcement of an interim injunction ordering the cessation of the work and prohibiting the use of the buildings. Government representatives claimed that the injunction refers only to the respondents in the petition - the defense minister, the head of Israel Defense Forces Central Command and the head of the Civil Administration. According to the interpretation of the prosecutor's office, with the exception of those three, anyone (Jewish, of course ) can do whatever he wishes with the buildings.

Repeated requests for postponement on the part of the State Prosecutor's Office are also exploited to establish new facts on the ground. For example, in a petition filed by Peace Now in September 2005, with a demand to instruct the government to implement demolition orders issued for several buildings in the outposts Haresha and Hayovel, the court accepted no fewer than 25 requests from the state to postpone the date for submitting answers on its behalf. When the time comes, the state requests that the construction be approved. The decision to appoint a new committee to approve outposts was publicized on the very eve that the Shalit deal was publicized - perhaps in order to win the consent of the rightwing for the release of the Palestinian prisoners?