Amidst protests by victim’s families, Israel released 26 Palestinian prisoners on Tuesday, as part of peace deal brokered by the United States. The release of these prisoners is part of a larger deal, which calls for the eventual release of 104 Palestinian prisoners currently held in Israel. All the prisoners released are considered terrorist militants by the Israelis, and this move was not welcome by the people of Israel.
Most political commentators see this move by the Nethanyahu administration as an attempt to boost the faltering U.S. brokered peace talks. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is to visit the region on the New Year’s Day. It would be his tenth visit of the region since March. The United States and the Palestinian Authority have hailed this move, considering it a positive move on part of Israel. Inside Israel, though, there is wide-spread resentment against this step taken by the government of Nethanyahu.
Considering its past action, it is expected that the release of Palestinian prisoners will be followed by an announcement by the Israeli government of its plans to construct more Jewish settlements in the occupied territory. According to the families of the victims, this in no way compensates for what these terrorists have done. Instead, they are condemning this action by the government and are protesting against the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners. The common perception is that the government has broken its promise and backed off the principal stance to give justice to the aggrieved. This is the reason for the present protests, accompanied by sporadic acts of vandalism.
On the other hand, the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas has stated that any new construction of Jewish settlements would amount to breaking the terms of the Oslo Peace Accord, since East Jerusalem is considered the the capital of Palestine by the Palestinian Authority, although not recognized as such by Israel. He was speaking to thousands of Palestinians who had gathered in Ramallah to welcome the released Palestinians. Abbas reiterated that any more construction of Jewish settlements would leave no other option for the Palestinian Authority but to approach the International Court of Justice. This move has been blocked by the U.S. in the past, but it would not be able to do so on this occasion.
The U.S. and its allies would also view any new proposed construction of Jewish settlements against the spirit of the Oslo Peace Accord; relations between the U.S. and Israel are already at an all time low because of the signing of the Joint Action Plan with Iran . The fragile peace of Middle East is at stake if Israel insists on constructing Jewish settlements in the disputed territory specifically east Jerusalem.
According to political analysts, Nethanyahu is walking on a tight rope at this point, and any wrong step could be disastrous both for his government and the fragile peace of the region. Israeli families and victims are protesting the release of the 26 Palestinian prisoners, while Palestine and the United States are monitoring to if Israel maintains the terms of the Oslo Peace Accord.
By Iftikhar Tariq Khanzada