Few of us – even the participants – believe that there is any hope these latest “peace” talks will lead anywhere. All the Palestinians will get from the negotiations are a handful of political prisoners, while Israel gets a quick expansion of the very settlements it is supposed to be about to dismantle as part of a peace agreement.
The current exchange rate is 1,200 new settler homes for the 26 Palestinian prisoners to be released this week. Or looked at another way, about 300 Jewish settlers for each prisoner.
That bargain looks even worse when one reads the small print. This first release of prisoners, all of whom have been in jail for more than 20 years, are inmates assessed by Israel as posing a low security risk. Nonetheless, Israel is insisting that 14 of the 26 not return to the Palestine supposedly about to be created but into exile in a new jail, one that gets intermittently bombed: the prison of Gaza. Most of the rest will be returned to the tiny prisons of Area A of the West Bank. Previous experience warns us that Israel will re-arrest them the moment they try to stray out of these enclaves.
If the Palestinians will win nothing from these talks, Israel has much to gain. In addition to a boom in “legitimate” settler house-building, it gets some breathing space from its growing status as international pariah – in the eyes of most of the world’s people, if not their governments. It also delays the Palestinian Authority from pursuing the most fruitful action it can take at the moment: going back to the UN and heading for the International Criminal Court at the Hague.
It helps too to deceive us again into believing the US wants to exert some control over Israel’s behaviour and is doing its best to bring peace to the region. And when the peace process eventually goes belly-up, Israel and the US get to blame the Palestinians again, with the hope for Israel that it can annex Area C – most of the West Bank – as a bonus.