Palestinian Prisoners: Pawns of the Peace Process
John Kerry is a happy man. Just six months into his appointment as Secretary of State, Kerry succeeded in getting the Palestinian and Israeli representatives back to the negotiating table and put an end to three years of them giving each other the silent treatment. Kerry's coup came about when he finally got Bibi to agree to do something Israel had already agreed to do, 14 years ago. As a sign of goodwill, Netanyahu promised to release a whopping 104 of the almost 5,000 Palestinian prisoners occupying its jails.
Palestinians consider their brethren being held captive by Israel POW's rather than criminals and in general they are beloved rather than condemned. This does not mean all Palestinians advocate violence, but that most see little difference between Israeli military actions that affect entire civilian populations and Palestinian resistance that has at times targeted non-combatants. To be crystal clear, I condemn the killing of civilians by anyone, at anytime. The majority of the world, sadly, disagrees with me and believes that all is fair in war, even when it's called an occupation and one side lacks an army.
Its important to note that not all Palestinian prisoners are being held for acts of violence. The prisoner population also includes non-violent resistance, Palestinians caught working or living in areas they are forbidden by Israel to enter, innocents who have been wrongly convicted, and those who are being indefinitely detained without charges. Palestinians are not judged by their peers. Instead, they must stand trial in Israeli military kangaroo courts, legendary for being more bigoted and biased than the State of Florida's justice system.
You can't throw a slipper in the occupied territories without hitting a Palestinian who has either been jailed, has family and friends currently serving, or feels guilty about being free while 4,976 of their fellow Palestinians rot in Israeli prisons. Among the almost 5,000 humans being held in Israel's military prisons are 238 minors, 44 of whom are children under the age of 16. The Israeli prison system is no place for a child. They cannot withstand the torture, psychological, and sexual abuse that has broken men and women twice their age. The damage done to these young inmates is often permeant.
The 44 children rotting in Israel's jails are not on the list of prisoners the Israeli cabinet signed off on releasing in exchange for Abbas and his cronies agreeing to come back to the infamous negotiating table. The jailbirds set to be freed are not your average Palestinian prisoners and have all been doing time since before the signing of the Oslo Accords, by Arafat and Rabin, in 1993. These men are not being indefinitely detained without charges and were convicted by Israel of far worse things than tossing rocks at IDF tanks. This little detail helps to bolster Israel's PR machine by reenforcing the myth that all Palestinians are terrorists and Israel is putting her very existence at risk by agreeing to sit with these monsters again. Netanyahu also gets to drone on about how poor Israel got nothing in return for agreeing to reengage. He conveniently ignores the fact that billions of U.S. tax dollars continuously flow Israel's way and America has, yet again, turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the sights and sounds of Israeli bulldozers expanding the illegal settlements as Kerry, Livni and Erekat speak.
Abbas hoped that promises of a prisoner release would get him some love from the people and shut up his detractors. It didn't. An angry mini-mob of Palestinians took to the streets of Ramallah to protest Abbas's unilateral decision to resume direct, final status negotiations. Abu Mazen responded by having his thug police force beat down the people. The groups PFLP, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad blasted the PLO for agreeing to talks with Israel, when Israel had failed to adhere to any of their commitments, be it the Oslo Accords or the Bush Road Map sponsored by Google. Fatah and the PLO, which are both coincidentally headed by Abbas, shot back and accused the opposition of being prisoner haters. The prisoners, who are being used as bargaining chips by all sides, also chimed in. They released a statement calling for unity and the involvement of all Palestinian factions in any negotiations. They also called for the PLO to demand Israel free all women, children, and seriously ill political prisoners, and warned Abbas not use them as an excuse for making concessions on issues the Palestinians consider non negotiable, like east Jerusalem.
The latest round of soon to be failed peace talks kicked off with an "Iftar dinner" hosted by John Kerry in Washington. The breakfast dinner reminded the public that these are Muslims that Israel and the United States are dealing with, and it is crucial to ignore the fact that Palestinians can be Christian too and that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The second day of meetings included a pop in by POTUS and an announcement by Kerry, the only person allowed to say boo about the top secret negotiations. According to the Secretary of State, things had gone swimmingly and the threesome planned to do it again within the next two weeks.
Kerry boasted that he'd be able to seal the deal and in 9 months deliver a signed peace agreement to Obama's desk. Even if Kerry does achieve the impossible, Netanyahu has already given himself an out by announcing that Israelis will vote to approve or over turn any final settlement. The Palestinian leadership forgets they even had a people, so it's highly unlikely they would allow the public vote. That doesn't mean the Palestinian people will adhere to any agreement Mahmoud Abbas, whose mandate is up, signs in their name.
Palestinians have so far held up their end of the deal, so there is a good chance a handful of the pre-Oslo prisoners will be home for the holidays. That is pretty much the only thing anyone other than John Kerry expects to come out of this latest round of peace talks. Palestinians fear that these negotiations will be more of the same and that there is little hope for change. There is a small minority, though, who truly believe that this time the conflict will be resolved and a Palestinian State will be born. These people are tired. They have given up all they have to give, from land to limbs to loved ones and they are done. They are willing to give the man who lost to George Bush a chance because like Kerry, they've got nothing left to lose.