Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The second step of the prisoners' release deal- what next?

Last night Israel released the second group of Palestinian prisoners – 26 prisoners – as part of a larger deal brokered by the USA to release around 100 prisoners arrested for terror acts they committed in the period before Oslo agreements.
By large the release is perceived as an important achievement of PLO leader, Mahmud Abbas, Abu Mazen, and improved his image compared to Hamas achievement with the Shalit case.
Having said that the event last night exposed also several weaknesses in Abu Mazen's situation inside the Palestinian Authority and outside that may appear as major challenges down the road.
First of all, the entire "peace process" shifted from "peace agreement" to tool to release prisoners. It was obvious in last night speeches and narratives that not achieving peace with Israel is the purpose of the entire operation but how to guarantee the continuation of the release process and how to sue Israel in international tribunals. This line reached its peak in Abu Mazen's solemn commitment not to sign any agreement with Israel unless all prisoners- to the last one of them – will go out of prison, or the way Abu Mazen phrased it: until the prisons will be cleaned out.
It means that no "staged" agreement is possible now and no interim compromise—the only game in town is permanent final deal that is impossible in the 6 months period set by Secretary of State, John Kerry, as deadline for agreement. The only option now for Kerry is to publish his own paper that may trigger major conflict with both Israel and the Palestinians for reasons that we shall elaborate separately.
As we understood from what is discussed in the negotiations room – the parties focused lately on publishing a "large guideless" for future teams work, but now as this agreement must be accompanied with total release of prisoners – Israel will not be able to agree to it and the international diplomacy will be obliged to find ways to bypass this hurdle instead of advancing the peace process forwards.
The Israelis on their part did not make Abu Mazen's situation easier and today they published their decision to build 1700 housing units basically in east Jerusalem. The Fatah's Central Committee is summoned tonight to address the issue that would worsen the atmosphere around the negotiations further.
The issue of housing construction beyond 1967 lines exposed Abu Mazen to internal criticism in his own Fatah home. In his festive address to greet the prisoners he was obliged to attack his main rival inside Fatah, Muhammad Dahlan – without mentioning his mane – that blamed him of a deal with Israel to agree to settlements construction in order to enable the release. Actually, Dahlan who is now in exile in the Emirates, because he is under corruption investigations in Ramallah, succeeded lately to bolster his strength inside Fatah's Central Committee to the discontent of Abu Mazen.
But his problems with Fatah are not limited to the cut-off with Dahlan only but also with his Ramallah based Tanzim guys that are loyal to the imprisoned leader, Marwan Barguti. It was obvious last night that the Tanzim guys were not seen on the podium in the reception event. It turned to be that exactly now they are in a tour in South Africa to mobilize international campaign to free their leader, Marwan Barguti. In his greeting address Abu Mazen not only ignored Marwan Barguti – but mentioned some other name of a leader in prison as the main figure who leads the prisoners.
In an interview to Kyodo News some 6 months ago Barguti assailed on Abu Mazen personally blaming him on bypassing him in prisoners release deals. His followers are trying to mobilize international campaign to release him and they began in South Africa in order to compare him to Nelson Mandela and Israel to Apartheid state.
Another challenge still is the widening rift with Hamas that ignored last night the celebration for the group that were sent to Gaza. The leading Al-Jazeera satellite TV also ignored the coverage of the Ramallah event in contrast of the festive reporting of the Shalit exchange deal. Al-Jazeera is the major Moslem Brothers organ and this may herald a widening confrontation with Moslem Brothers as well.
Sum up: no argument that last night release of prisoners was a personal achievement of Abu Mazen but also exposed him to future challenges- first of all worsening the atmosphere around the peace talks and taking off the table any hope for interim agreement and shifting the focus from the peace to releasing of prisoners.
This opened a front with Barguti's Tanzim guys and the alleged accepting the housing construction beyond 1967 lines exposed him to the criticism from the part of Dahlan.