Friday April 18, 2014
Israel Hayom
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Ruthie Blum

Housing illusions

The release of the next batch of Palestinian terrorists from Israeli jails is scheduled to take place some time next week, following a discussion about which 26 murderers with Jewish blood on their hands will be returning to the bosom of their families.

The families of their victims, in contrast, suffered another blow on Thursday, when the High Court of Justice rejected a petition against the move -- the third of four such prisoner releases that Israel consented to under the agreement that restarted Israeli-Palestinian discussions.

The only issue that Washington is concerned about, however, is the revelation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is about to approve construction tenders for 600 new apartments in Jerusalem and 800 in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). If there's one thing that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry can't stand, it's an inconvenient statement about "expanding Israeli settlements" when he's in the process of deluding himself and everybody else about an imminent treaty between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

This is ironic for many reasons. First of all, adding housing units to existing neighborhoods does not constitute expansion. The Palestinian leadership knows this very well. It is also aware that the Israeli government doesn't always follow through on building permits, but has proven to be capable of forcing its citizens to move out of their homes for political purposes. Gaza ended up free of Jews in 2005. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has good reason to hold out for a far greater expulsion of Jews.

In the second place, Abbas and his henchmen have no interest in reaching an agreement with Israel, certainly not one that involves Palestinian guarantees of Israeli security. This is why they have not budged one iota on the issue of Israeli military presence -- however limited -- in any sensitive areas, such as the Jordan Valley. Indeed, their goal is not to live side-by-side with Israel, but to precipitate its demise.

Thirdly, the Palestinian terrorists who have already been released as part of a senseless goodwill gesture to jump-start negotiations have neither expressed remorse nor renounced future violence against Jews.

Finally, there has been a sharp rise in Palestinian terror, directly linked to Kerry's shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem and Ramallah. This week alone, there was a bus bombing outside of Tel Aviv, the stabbing of an Israeli security guard north of Jerusalem and two rocket launchings from Gaza into Ashkelon, the latter leading the defense establishment to deploy batteries of Iron Dome missiles near Beersheba, Ashdod and Sderot.

Nevertheless, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat "strongly condemned [Israeli construction plans for] damaging for the peace process." He also suggested that if next week's prisoner release coincides with an announcement of building tenders, the PA should apply for membership in 63 international organizations, among them the International Criminal Court, where it would sue Israel for war crimes, such as -- get this -- settlement construction.

Kerry ought to be paying closer attention to the reason his pipe dream is going up in smoke. He also would do well to note the vehemence with which Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh denied a Yedioth Ahronoth report on Thursday alleging that the Israeli prime minister and the PA president have been engaging in clandestine talks for the past few years, via middlemen. According to the expose, these back channel negotiations were conducted in London, possibly between Palestinian businessman Bassel Aqel and Netanyahu confidante Isaac Molho. The aim of these purported meetings was to make diplomatic progress during the period of negotiation stalemate.

The fact that an Abbas representative rushed to deny the existence of such cooperation, and that Netanyahu's office refrained from commenting on it, suggests the story is true. But if it is, why wouldn't Abbas -- who has sworn his allegiance to Kerry's "two-state solution" process -- readily admit it? Wouldn't this add to his credibility with the secretary of state?

The answer is that he doesn't need to worry about the West. Indeed, no matter what Abbas says or does, the cash continues to flow into the PA to fund its network of corruption and terrorist infrastructure. But he does have to take Hamas in Gaza and other Palestinian organizations in the West Bank into account. After all, they actually pose a threat to his precarious grip on power.

Each batch of terrorists that Israel releases bolsters Abbas' standing among the radicals. Peace, like statehood, is as beside the point to the Palestinian negotiating team as a few hundred housing units. Indeed, the Arab war on Israel never was about the real estate.

Ruthie Blum is the author of "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'"

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