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Netanyahu’s sweet deal: 104 prisoners for thousands of settlements

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March 2011. (Photo: Cherie Cullen/Department of Defense/Wikimedia Commons)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March 2011. (Photo: Cherie Cullen/Department of Defense/Wikimedia Commons)

Israel is reaping the benefits of a sweet deal it struck at the start of the peace process: release a token amount of Palestinian prisoners, and continue gobbling up the West Bank.

On the same evening that 26 Palestinian prisoners were released over the objections of Israeli Jewish citizens, the Israeli Interior Ministry announced that plans to construct 1,500 homes in the Ramat Shlomo settlement in East Jerusalem were moving forward. While this project has long been in the pipeline–announcement of settlements there caused a diplomatic crisis with the U.S. in 2010–the new announcement means that “within several months, it will be possible to start issuing building permits and marketing land to contractors,” Haaretz’s Barak Ravid reports.

Ramat Shlomo isn’t the only illegal settlement that is benefiting from the prisoner release. The next day, Israel announced that more plans to build settlements are moving though the pipeline. 2,500 units in total–including in settlements outside the “blocs”–will be built in the future.

Ravid also reports that plans to build a national park in East Jerusalem that would block construction in nearby Palestinian neighborhoods is moving ahead, as is a move to build a tourist center in the Palestinian village of Silwan. The tourist center will sit opposite of the City of David, another tourist spot that Jews around the world travel to, in Silwan, a flashpoint area of East Jerusalem where settler groups are actively trying to expand their presence.

The Israeli government did the exact same thing in August, when the first batch of what will be 104 Palestinian prisoners freed were released. Israel announced that 2,000 homes in East Jerusalem were to be constructed on the the same day that prisoners were freed.

Right-wing members of the Israeli coalition government have howled over releasing the prisoners, who had been in jail since before the Oslo Accords and have served time for violent attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers. Israel had already agreed to release these prisoners in 1999.

Despite its cries of anger, the right knew the prisoner release would happen when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu started negotiating with the Palestinian Authority (PA). The roots of the prisoner release for settlements deal date back to July 2013. Netanyahu needed to give the Palestinian Authority something to entice them back to the table, so he gave them the least bad option for Israel: releasing prisoners. The other options–a settlement freeze or declaring the 1967 lines as a basis for negotiations–were off the table, since it would lead to a collapse of his ultra-right coalition. It’s a perfect microcosm for the true priorities of Israel: holding onto the West Bank and expanding settlements.

The prisoner release allows the negotiations to continue rolling on. PA President Abbas can point to an achievement every single time another batch of prisoners are released. Reuters reported that he told a crowd of Palestinians celebrating the release of the 26 prisoners last night that there was no connection between the prisoner release and settlement expansion. “The settlements are void, void, void,” Abbas said. Reuters also reported that the Palestinian Cabinet released a statement saying they “would reject any attempt by Israel to ‘trade’ prisoners for continued settlement-building.”

Except that Abbas has effectively agreed to that trade by staying in the peace talks while settlements march on.

Meanwhile, Israel’s priority of expanding settlements is strengthened. The next time prisoners are released, expect more settlements to be announced.

Alex Kane
About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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23 Responses

  1. HarryLaw
    October 31, 2013, 12:41 pm

    This expansion was inevitable and shows how easily Abbas can be bought, some commentators here say he had no choice other than to enter talks and that Israel/US would withdraw aid etc, of course they threatened the terrors of the earth before Palestine acceptance of non member statehood by the General Assembly at the UN, the sky did not fall in then, the Israelis have a political goal and a plan of action, everything they do is calculated to further the Zionist objective of a Greater Israel with as few Palestinians as possible, in the minimum 9 months allotted for the talks Israel has increased its settlement activity by nearly 100% Abbas has acquiesced in all this after telling everyone there must be an end to settlement building before he would agree to talks, he lied, Abbas regards the prisoner release as some kind of success and we see pictures of him jumping for joy, this could not be further from the truth, this was a sop by the Israelis to get Abbas to forgo the very real political gains of possible membership of all the other UN Agencies and applying to join, and pursuing Israel through the ICC, the Israelis have won this latest encounter hands down and have once again shown the utter bankruptcy and apolitical nature of the Palestinian leadership, and so the charade continues.

  2. pabelmont
    October 31, 2013, 1:35 pm

    I do not understand what it means to say that Abbas acquiesced in the building of new settlement units. Or, to put it another way, what difference would it have made “on the ground” if he had noisily declared the wall and the settlements units and the settlements themselves — all of them that are within territory occupied in 1967– indeed, each and every one of them, both jointly and severally — violations of international law, and the residing-under-Israeli-sponsorship of the settlers within the occupied territories — each and every one of them, children and grandmothers, goats, camels, chickens, and pigs included included (in each case, of course, if any) — violations of international law, then SO WHAT? Would N’yahu who would not stop for OBAMA stop for Abbas?

    What matters more in this “what was agreed for prisoner release” is whether, after 9 months, and no final peace agreed to by anyone, will Abbas take Palestine to ICC, etc.? If Abbas caves-in on that, then I’d say it’s all over. He has no other cards to play, and he has avoided seeking the help of the only entities which might conceivably serve as allies for Palestine — the nations.

  3. Walid
    October 31, 2013, 2:37 pm

    You don’t have to try so hard; just go back to the Palestine Papers where it’s all laid out clear and simple. Dig them up and you’d see they’re back to discussing the concessions already agreed to by the Palestinians. Only problem remaining is how to get the Palestinian people to swallow this stuff.

    To add insult to injury, today Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat (and a team of negotiators) has again quit his post and Abbas is begging him to stay on (as usual). Another smoke screen being prepared. Resignations and threats of resignations and subsequent backtracking from intended resignations are part of the charade. Erekat saying that Israel not living up to agreements.

    • seafoid
      October 31, 2013, 3:54 pm

      The Palestinian people are never going to agree to whatever Judaism has decided for them.

      How do Jews think this is going to end ? Messiah to land in Starbucks Jerusalem at some Friday just before sundown?

      And as for Israel gobbling up more land, the Germans gobbled up Poland before and it didn’t do them any good when the rebound came.

      There is no point in getting in the way of the bots at this stage. Just give them more rope and let nature take its course.

      • ivri
        October 31, 2013, 5:31 pm

        “How do Jews think is going to end?”
        Nobody knows but, Seafoid, you keep placing too much weight on size and the “long run”. While size was a determining factor in the past in today`s conditions it can create an “optical-vision” error (and that is also why “the long run” didn`t work until now). In an era of warfare asymmetry and globalized all (including economics) the apparent big, in size and population, can unfold just as easily – e.g. WMD with missiles can instantly undo a whole set of much bigger countries, so can a cyber-attack and outside interference by global players can devastate just as much a big country. Times have changed and old rules don`t apply anymore

      • seafoid
        October 31, 2013, 6:01 pm

        Thanks for the laugh ivri . Arabs will never be on the same tech level as the bots is what you imply. Good luck with that assumption.

    • Walid
      October 31, 2013, 4:43 pm

      About Erekat’s resignation; Jerusalem Post 10 minutes ago:

      “Report: Chief PA peace process negotiator Saeb Erekat tenders resignation


      LAST UPDATED: 10/31/2013 22:12

      Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority in the peace negotiations with Israel, has tendered his resignation to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Ma’an News Agency reported.

      According to the report Erekat resigned because of Israel was not abiding by its obligations in the diplomatic process because it continued building settlements in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem.

      People in Erekat’s inner circle refused to comment on the report on Thursday, only saying that Erekat was meeting with Abbas, Israel Radio reported. ”

      So Erekat and Abbas are back to the resigning and “unresigning” game they often play. Probably coming at the heel of all the Palestinian flack from all the announcements of new housing starts in East Jerusalem and the rest of the WB as well as the demolition orders issued by Israel today that would throw 15,000 East Jerusalemites on the street. The resignation angle is an old tactic when the regime is in hot water over something.

      By the way, interesting that Erekat resigned last year but never “unreigned” and went back to his job of chief negotiator after the Palestine Papers dust settled. Can he resign a second time from the same post?

    • Inanna
      November 1, 2013, 1:41 am

      You’re right Walid. Palestinians are not well-served by these puppets. They are part of the peace process, a process many predicted would never bring anything to the Palestinians and over 20 years later that has proven to be correct. Abbas and Erekat should really do their fellow Palestinians a favor and get out of the way.

  4. HarryLaw
    October 31, 2013, 2:40 pm

    Netanyahu agreed to enter talks on the basis of that there should be no preconditions, ie he will continue settlement building and that Abbas should put on hold any action at the UN and ICC, Abbas obviously did not like that, but agreed to the talks in any case, he now finds himself in the worst of positions because after 9 months Israel/US will find some other mechanism to prolong the charade, probably combined with more threats,and he will be blamed for pulling out, it may not matter about the ICC since if the talks are extended the Prosecutor may not investigate the situation because of the real chance [according to Israel/US] that a political break through is possible,and confirm to everybody not least the Africans that the ICC is a political tool of the West. I hope I am wrong about that, but we will never find out until all the levers are pulled, by the apolitical Abbas.

  5. xanadou
    October 31, 2013, 3:09 pm

    ” Israel had already agreed to release these prisoners in 1999.”

    Israeli antisemitism at work.

  6. justicewillprevail
    October 31, 2013, 4:17 pm

    What an utter sham. Yahoo and most of Israel know it very well, and don’t care, such is their confidence in no-one, least of all the Americans, stopping them. And in the US, sucker politicians and media propagandists try and keep the charade afloat, because the alternative is to admit the ruthless expansionism and ethnic cleansing which continue every day.

  7. Ludwig
    October 31, 2013, 4:28 pm

    How is that a sweet deal? These are murderers that are being released.

    • Walid
      October 31, 2013, 5:12 pm

      “How is that a sweet deal?”

      Think of all those thousands of Zionists you will getting into East Jerusalem while getting rid of thousands of Palestinians and all these goodies for a mere 104 prisoners that are now too old to even kill a fly. You should be happy.

    • Justpassingby
      October 31, 2013, 5:15 pm

      In Israel they arent released, they arent even jailed when attacking palestinians.

  8. Walid
    October 31, 2013, 4:28 pm

    Israelis’ knack for helping the negotiations advance never stop to amaze; they really know how to inspire confidence:

    From Maan News Agency today:

    “Official: Israel to demolish homes of over 15,000 East Jerusalemites

    Published today (updated) 31/10/2013 20:33

    JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Municipality officers escorted by Israeli soldiers issued demolition warrants for thousands of Palestinian homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ras Khamis and Ras Shahada on Friday, a local Palestinian official said.

    Jamil Sanduqa, who chairs a local committee to develop the Ras Khamis neighborhood, said that over 15,000 Palestinians live in the buildings slated for demolition.

    The warrants were posted on 200 residential blocks each consisting of 40-70 apartments and the owners were given 30 days to submit objections to the demolition orders, Sanduqa said.

    He added that municipality officers took photos of several buildings located near the entrance to the neighborhoods before they issued the orders. Among the buildings was a mosque and a newly built school.

    “The orders came very shortly after incumbent mayor Nir Barakat has been elected for a new term,” Sanduqa said.

    “The municipal council of Jerusalem is a racist council founded to demolish Palestinian residential buildings and to displace us from Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

    He warned that if any building in the nearby Shufat refugee camp “is demolished, we will establish a new refugee camp in Al-Aqsa Mosque erecting tents in its yards.”
    Israel has destroyed more than 500 Palestinian properties in the West Bank and mostly East Jerusalem since the beginning of this year, displacing 862 people, according to UNOCHA.

    Israel rarely grants Palestinians permits to build in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. It has demolished at least 27,000 Palestinian homes and structures since occupying the West Bank in 1967, according to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.

    • seafoid
      October 31, 2013, 4:35 pm

      The Israelis make such courageous steps for peace in the face of Palestinian incitement, walid. This report about home demolitions is anti Semitic. Jews would never do that. It sounds like Pallywood.

      • Walid
        October 31, 2013, 4:55 pm

        Yes, seafoid, such courageous steps. I wonder what became of the Jazeera report of a couple of days back that quoted an Israeli Minister about the US and Abbas being both aware before the start of the talks that Israel would be announcing the new housing starts. Abed-Rabbo or some other Palestinian Minister denied the allegation and said that this leak to the press about the foreknowledge was an Israeli trick to sabotage the talks.

  9. Justpassingby
    October 31, 2013, 5:13 pm

    Netanyahu’s sweet deal: 104 prisoners for thousands of settlements and an attack on Syria

    Can anyone come up with a bigger threat than this man?

  10. lysias
    October 31, 2013, 5:13 pm

    Meanwhile, Netanyahu strikes again abroad: JPost: ‘White House official confirms Israeli attack on Syrian missile site in Latakia’ :

    Israel conducted air raids against a Syrian missile base near the port city of Latakia on Thursday night according to a leak by an anonymous US administration official, speaking to CNN.

  11. HarryLaw
    October 31, 2013, 5:32 pm

    Erekat is being disingenuous, Israel did not agree to stop settlement building, evidenced by their announcement of 1200 settlement homes day’s after the talks got underway. At the time Kerry asked the Palestinian leadership “not to react adversely” and that “that was to some degree expected” The Palestinian leadership knew what would happen, Erekat has had 20 years experience of Israeli duplicity, the Israelis know Erekat inside out and play him by the well known phrase “never give a sucker an even break”.

  12. talknic
    October 31, 2013, 8:14 pm

    Netanyahu’s sweet deal ….. with who? Not the Palestinians!

    Netanyahu beats a pathway to the ICC

    @Ludwig “These are murderers that are being released”

    Your evidence? How many were actually A) charged with murder? B) charged at all? C) attacked IDF? (who’re a valid military target) D) were suicide bombers?

    I foolishly await an honest reply ……

  13. just
    October 31, 2013, 11:01 pm

    “Sweet deal” for the Bibi and his hellish agenda.

    He releases with one hand, while keeping his other 3 extremities firmly upon the throats of all Occupied Palestinians– scrabbling all the while to incarcerate those that he just”released” one day soon.

    Liar. Crook. Thief. Murderer and Destroyer of all Peace- in- Chief.

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