Phyllis Bennis: After Palestine applies to join UN organizations, Israel reneges on deal to release prisoners, leading talks back into where they started – a dead end
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Last week, the Palestinian Authority applied to join 15 UN institutions, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is demanding that Palestinians withdraw their applications after Israel failed to release another batch of Palestinian prisoners as a part of ongoing peace negotiations. Palestinian officials have threatened to join the International Criminal Court if the talks do not progress further. And U.S. officials are now scrambling to hold the talks together, as John Kerry reportedly offered the release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.
Now joining us to discuss all this is our guest, Phyllis Bennis. Phyllis is a fellow and the director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. She’s also the author of the book Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.
Thanks for joining us, Phyllis.
So, Phyllis, as the talks between the Israelis and Palestinians seem to be really falling apart, can you just give us an assessment in terms of how everything is progressing related to construction of new settlements, prisoner swaps, and so on and so forth?
PHYLLIS BENNIS, FELLOW, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: Essentially, everything is progressing as if there were no peace talks. These peace talks are sham peace talks. This is not about peace. This is a call for the Palestinians to surrender, and it’s not happening the way the Israelis wanted it, so it’s crumbling.
This was, as many of us said, something that might be termed the Einstein edition of the peace talks, based on the scientist’s definition of being crazy–doing the same thing over and over again and thinking you’re going to get a different result. These are the same peace talks, based on the same failed premises that we saw in the last 22 years of failed U.S. diplomacy. We’re going into the 23rd year, and nothing has really changed. Settlement expansion continues. The prisoners remain. There’s more than 5,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. The siege of Gaza remains. So the notion that somehow things are getting better because they’re talking simply is not the case.
DESVARIEUX: Why is the release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard of such significance? Why was that even offered up?
BENNIS: Well, I think those two are very different questions. I don’t think it’s very significant. Jonathan Pollard is a convicted spy. Whether he gets released from prison early or not, frankly, has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian talks, it has nothing to do with Palestine. It’s as if the Israelis are being tossed a bone in these talks that has nothing to do with Palestine. It won’t benefit the Palestinians. It won’t benefit anybody except Netanyahu’s reputation for bringing home the spy that Israelis all love.
But it’s an outrage that the administration is intervening in a judicial matter, the question of the punishment of a convicted spy who was sentenced to life imprisonment, and offering him up as a bone to toss to keep the Israelis in the talk. He has nothing to do with the Palestinians. And whether he stays in prison or goes out on parole or whatever has no significance whatsoever.
DESVARIEUX: What’s your take on the Palestinian authority’s role in the negotiations?
BENNIS: I think that they believed early on that they were going to get something in these negotiations. Maybe they believed only they would get the prisoners released, at least.
Now, keep in mind, Jessica, we’re talking about only 104 Palestinian prisoners who were scheduled to be released, but many of them were longstanding prisoners from before the Oslo days. And the question of political prisoners in Palestine among Palestinians is a very, very crucial question. There is virtually not a single family in the occupied territories that doesn’t have someone either in prison now or who has been in an Israeli prison. So the question of the prisoners is a very fundamental question of Palestinian rights.
And I think that the Palestinian leadership, Mahmoud Abbas and the others, believe that if they could at least get that concession out of Netanyahu, that it would somehow be worth it. As we know now, the Israelis, after agreeing to release the 104 prisoners, said, well, we’ll only release them in four batches. They released the first three batches, but then they suddenly announced they were not going to release the last 25 or so prisoners that were due to be released about now. And the Palestinians, in response to that, not before, but in response to the announcement from Israel that they would not release the prisoners, that was the point at which the Palestinian Authority signed on to the 15 international treaties and treaty bodies, which they had promised not to do.
You know, it’s a funny thing, when you think about it, the quid pro quo here. On the one hand, Israel was obligated to release prisoners for whom they are violating international law by holding them. The Geneva Conventions do not allow an occupying power to intern or to imprison part of the occupied population in their own country. This is illegal. So the agreement was that Israel was going to stop one tiny little bit of its violation of the Geneva conventions, and in return the Palestinians agreed that they would not do something that is fundamentally legal, which is to sign on to a bunch of human rights treaties that put the onus on them themselves.
So what they were signing on to was not the International Criminal Court, which they could use to try, to prosecute Israelis for war crimes. They signed on to the treaties involving the rights of the disabled, the rights of women, the rights of children, the Geneva Conventions themselves. All of these are treaties that obligate the Palestinians to abide by human rights. So it’s a very good thing that everybody should be cheering when any government–or, in this case, it’s not a government, but it’s an authority–sign on to those treaties, those human rights treaties. And yet that was taken as an attack on Israel. And the United States’ Samantha Power and others said that this was, you know, somehow an outrage that the Palestinians were doing this, that this was not helpful, calling it a unilateral act which is not helpful to the peace process, etc., when the alternative for the Israelis was a direct violation of the Geneva Conventions.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Phyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, thank you so much for joining us.
BENNIS: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.