Inside the Mideast prisoner swap

Ali Abunimah writes: In recent days, we’ve witnessed the rare spectacle of Israelis and Palestinians celebrating at the same time. Ironically, this was the result of negotiations between the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian resistance organization Hamas, which Israel and the United States describe as “terrorists.” It was a moment that revealed what it would take for negotiations between seemingly irreconcilable foes to result in a credible agreement and why the current “peace process” has gone nowhere.

But in the wake of the Israel-Hamas agreement under which 1,027 Palestinians held by Israel are being released in exchange for one Israeli soldier held in Gaza, the editors of the New York Times expressed a good deal of frustration.

“If Mr. Netanyahu can negotiate with Hamas — which shoots rockets at Israel, refuses to recognize Israel’s existence,” they wondered in an Oct. 18 editorial, “why won’t he negotiate seriously with the Palestinian Authority, which Israel relies on to help keep the peace in the West Bank?”

What are the chances of this happening? The Times was referring to the supposedly “moderate” Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas, whose U.S.-backed security forces collaborate with Israel to keep any form of armed or unarmed Palestinian resistance in check. The Times noted that Netanyahu had defied Israeli families whose loved ones had been killed in armed attacks by some of the Palestinian prisoners: Why can’t Netanyahu also buck the wishes of Israeli settlers in the West Bank in a similar way and put in place a settlement freeze?

Abbas insists he won’t return to negotiations until Israel stops building Jewish-only colonies in the West Bank, especially in and around eastern occupied Jerusalem. The blame lay squarely with Netanyahu according to the Times: “The problem is not that he can’t compromise and make tough choices. It’s that he won’t.”

In calling for a return to negotiations between Israel and the PA, the Times was echoing others — including the Obama administration — who are incapable of seeing alternatives to the failed U.S.-backed “peace process.”

But this is terribly unfair to the Israeli prime minister. Netanyahu has done absolutely nothing that his supposedly more “dovish” predecessors, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, did not do. Olmert and Livni did negotiate with Abbas without ever stopping settlement construction and without advancing proposals that would meet even Abbas’ minimalist demands. Netanyahu says he’s willing to do the same and constantly begs Abbas to meet him at the negotiating table.

And the Olmert government, like Netanyahu’s, negotiated with Hamas. The Palestine Papers — a trove of documents and minutes related to the peace process that was leaked to Al Jazeera in January — shed light on what happened.

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