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As part of Israel's attempt to exploit the diplomatic opening left by the death of Yasser Arafat and to strengthen the hand of Abu Mazen/Mahmoud Abbas in upcoming Palestinian elections, 159 Palestinians were released from Israeli jails today. True to form, Abbas declared the exercise wholly unsatisfactory:
Israel freed 159 Palestinian prisoners Monday as a gesture to Egypt and moderate new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, but he called for a "serious release" of thousands of security detainees.
Abbas, trying to persuade Palestinian militants to stop fighting to help revive talks on Palestinian statehood with Israel, has made prisoner releases part of his campaign for a Jan. 9 presidential election after Yasser Arafat's death.
Palestinian leaders want all of the thousands of Palestinians held by Israel released, even (and maybe especially) those who murdered Israeli civilians in pizzerias and buses, and their leadership. Abbas also made headlines this weekend by declaring that Jerusalem would wind up under Palestinian control, and earlier last week served notice that the so-called "right of return" was non-negotiable.
So far, it appears that the only party willing to meet halfway is Israel, as usual. Abbas may deplore the violence of the intifada, but otherwise he's singing from the same hymnal as Arafat. It could just be smart politics on Abbas' part; after all, the likelihood of getting elected on a compromise platform is rather small. However, his campaign rhetoric sets up unreasonable expectations for Palestinians, who will react with rage if Abbas backs down from his demands. Abbas may well wind up a literal victim of his own words if he doesn't watch them more carefully.
Of course, another interpretation is that Abbas very clearly intends on continuing the same failed Palestinian demands -- Arafat without the keffiyah, as it were. While Abbas has demonstrated that he can work outside the threat of violence, his history as a terrorist cannot easily be overlooked. One could conclude that Abbas would rather pursue the stalemate that has hijacked three generations of his people than get creative about finding a solution for coexistence with Israel. Such a policy would then allow Abbas to shift blame once again to the Israelis for renewed violence over the status of Jerusalem and the return of refugees to Israel.
European, Egyptian, and American negotiators need to make clear to Abbas that we will not go more than one last spin on the Palestinian merry-go-round. We want to help them achieve statehood, but only if they get serious about it. If all they intend is more obstructionism and delay, providing political cover for their goon squads to kill more Israeli women and children, then we need to make clear that such a war will get our immediate and full intention -- and that one way or the other, we intend on solving the Palestinian problem. After Afghanistan and Iraq, even Abbas and the nutcases in the West Bank and Gaza will understand that message.Sphere It View blog reactions
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