Monday 14 April 2014

Carrying the Blame for the Breakdown of the Peace Talks

I am not too bothered that Israel has been blamed for the breakdown of the peace talks with the Palestinians.  I don't believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu will be overly concerned about this either.  Despite US Secretary of State John Kerry's denials that he is blaming Israel for the breakdown of the talks, he is quoted as saying that the peace talks broke down because Israel was not prepared to release the final group of 26 Palestinian prisoners.  When referring to the unilateral action taken by the Palestinian Authority to apply to 15 international organisations and treaties for membership, Kerry said that this is a response to the breakdown of the talks.  Maybe he did not mention the specific words that Israel is to blame, but his references seem quite clear where he is laying the responsibility.

There are a few reasons why I am unconcerned about the inappropriate attribution of blame.  Firstly, we have witnessed over the years that the stigma that may be associated with blame of this type, does not necessarily stick for too long.  We saw the openly hostile and dissenting attitude displayed by former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at Camp David, where he rejected any form of compromise agreement out of hand.  He later managed to turn this situation around in a such a way, that it was difficult to believe that he had torpedoed the talks.  He succeeded in convincing the subsequent American administrations that he was genuinely seeking peace, despite having shown in no uncertain terms that this was not his intention.  All was quickly forgotten.  We are currently witnessing this form of political amnesia with the events in Crimea.  It was only a few weeks ago that the US, NATO and other western countries were up in arms over Russia's invasion of Crimea.  Now, despite ongoing criticism of Russia's belligerent behaviour on the Ukrainian eastern border, the world seems to have completely forgotten Crimea.  The Russian invasion is a fait accompli.

It is my view that Prime Minister Netanyahu acted exactly correctly in refusing to release the final group of prisoners.  If this means that Israel has to carry the blame, then so be it.  I think that Netanyahu was correct to embark upon the path to try to seek out a peace arrangement with the Palestinians, despite all indications that this was likely to be a futile exercises.  I think that he was correct to split the prisoner release into 4 separate stages, even though I question whether he was correct to agree the unilateral release of prisoners without any tangible equivalent steps on the part of the Palestinians.  Having insisted upon splitting the prisoner release into 4 stages, the prime minister was obliged to consider at each stage whether proceeding with that stage was in the best interests of Israel and her people.  All things considered, I would already have stopped things at the third stage.  The fact that he stood up to the international community and refused to release the fourth group, however, restored some of my confidence in him.

The prime minister has the obligation, on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people, to seek out any possible way to peace that he can find.  In that sense, when John Kerry showed serious intention of finding a way to peace despite the conditions and circumstances not looking quite right, Netanyahu took the gamble.  He even agreed to the highly controversial step of releasing prisoners with blood on their hands, something that not everybody concurred with.  He went the extra mile to show intent and goodwill, in the interests of granting the gift of peace to our children and grandchildren.  The mistake in taking this step, was that the US interlocutors somehow did not value this step in the same way as Israel did.  For the country that has detained prisoners without trial in Guantanamo Bay for years, it seems strange that this demand was taken so for granted by the US.  I feel sure that the US would never have agreed to a similar step, perhaps not even in the pursuit of the elusive peace that we seek.  The decision for Israel to release prisoners who have been tried and found guilty of murder and terror acts, is not an easy one.  When it became clear that the peace talks were not progressing in a positive direction, Netanyahu did the right thing by cutting his losses.

History will yet judge Netanyahu's decision in entering into the peace talks, in releasing 78 prisoners, in insisting that he maintains some control over the process by continuing to approve construction in the West Bank, and in refusing to release the final group of 26.  It will also judge his attitude towards the substance of the talks, as well as judging the actions taken by the Palestinians.  I believe that trying and failing, is better than not trying at all.  This is especially true when it comes to matters of strategic national interest such as the peace talks.  I trust that history will judge him accurately, and not concur with the Kerry version of laying the blame.

Chag Pesach sameach.

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