When I heard that the Palestinian Authority agreed to resume negotiations with the Israeli occupation, I fell into a depression. Here we go again, I thought.
It is a repeat of the what followed the 1993 Oslo accords, time after time.
Yet again, the Israelis are represented by Tzipi Livni, who as a member of the government played a key role during Israel’s 2008–2009 invasion of Gaza.
And opposite her, once again, is Saeb Erekat as Palestinian “chief negotiator.”
How could the blood of the 1,400 victims killed during that massacre be forgotten so quickly? How could Erekat share the same table with her, as he did at a Ramadan iftar at the house of US Secretary of State John Kerry, exchanging smiles in the name of “diplomacy” and “realism”?
Fake “confidence-building measures”
As part of the deal to resume these talks, Israel agreed to release 104 long-term Palestinian prisoners, in phases, as a so-called “confidence-building” measure and to encourage progress. Most of the prisoners have nearly completed their sentences.
The first 26 were freed on 13 August, 11 to the West Bank and 15 to Gaza.
Confidence? Progress? The same buzzwords were used about the Oslo accords two decades ago. Has no lesson been learned?
As Addameer notes, “over 23,000 Palestinians have been released since 1993 as ‘goodwill measures’ during various negotiations and peace talks. However, in that same period, at least 86,000 Palestinians have been arrested, including children, women, disabled persons and university students.”
Currently Israel holds more than 5,000 Palestinian prisoners.
Such “confidence-building measures” are a sham!
In fact, what Israel has been doing all along is accelerating its settlement-building measures. Since 1993, the number of settlers in the occupied West Bank has continued to grow, as Palestinians, impoverished and squeezed, continue to be displaced by Israeli home demolitions and land confiscation.
Since its creation, the Palestinian Authority has served as Israel’s first line of defense against any Palestinian resistance to this colonization.
Because of inaction, and global acceptance of decades-long brutality and land theft – as long as Israel is committing it – the number of illegal Israeli settlers is now more than 600,000.
Of course, just days before the next round of talks were supposed to start, Israel has announced plans to add 1,200 more settler homes.
How could we return to negotiations based on this same framework with the same US mediators?
Nothing left to give
The Palestinian experience of the “peace process” is this: Israel does not want peace. It wants our land and our water. It wants to destroy our heritage, and it wants us to leave our homes, just as it is about to force 40,000 more Palestinian Bedouins out of their homes.
Saeb Erekat, of all people, knows – and this was exposed by the leaked Palestine Papers in 2011 – that when he offered Israel almost all the settlements, and the right of return of our refugees, it wasn’t enough. Israel still demanded more.
“What is in that paper gives them the biggest Yerushalaim in Jewish history, symbolic number of refugees return, demilitarised state … what more can I give?” Erekat told an American official in 2010.
Although he supposedly “resigned” after these revelations, Erekat and all the other discredited people, who should never be representing Palestinians in the first place, are back for more.
Remember that the Palestinian Authority had vowed not to return to negotations until Israel agreed to freeze settlements. They couldn’t even keep that promise. How could they be trusted to protect any Palestinian rights?
The meaning of peace
As much as peace is a dream for the Palestinian people, I sometimes wish I could wipe out the word “peace” from the dictionary.
We do hope to see a just peace, but with those who really want peace, not with such a brutal occupier whose talk of peace while playing the victim serves as an obscene cover for unrelenting crimes against our people.
Prisoners give us hope
The unyielding stance of many former prisoners and the families of detainees towards such compromises has always revived my hope.
Their opposition was not softened by the news of the prisoner release, and they are the ones who know best what it is like to be imprisoned or have a loved one in prison.
They were some of the first people who organized rallies in Gaza protesting the resumption of negotiations describing them as nothing more than “concessions.”
I was delighted to see their anger directed at the Palestinian Authority, which some of them accused of betrayal.
Detainees and released prisoners have an unmovable willingness to remain patient, to make whatever sacrifice is necessary to bring justice to our people, without a flicker of hesitation.
At the same time they affirm that the liberty of any prisoner is a victory that neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority can spoil.
We must not let the use of our detainees as a political tool dampen the joy that their families and communities feel at seeing them return home.
Israel cannot steal people’s joy
At midnight, on 14 August, the Palestinian people were due to witness the first prisoners come home.
The Israelis deliberately released the prisoners very late, likely to prevent as many people as possible from gathering to celebrate their freedom.
However, thousands of people in Gaza and the West Bank welcomed them home from Israel’s “graves for the living,” with Palestinian flags, fireworks, songs and chants of freedom.
And we know that all of these releases come with no guarantees: whenever Israel decides to take their liberty back, they will be re-arrested.
“At least 12 prisoners who were re-arrested after their release in the October 2011 prisoner exchange are currently facing the possibility of serving the remainder of their previous sentences,” Addameer notes.
But nothing will stop us rejoicing for every mother who fought to live long enough to hold her son in her arms once again, or for children having to live as orphans with only their father’s image in their minds or hanging on the walls, finally seeing their dad in person.
And all Palestinians waiting for justice, or waiting to come home, will be inspired by the patience of the families who overcame decades of absence and suffering as they crossed endless Israeli apartheid checkpoints and endured racist and humiliating treatment to see their beloved for 45 minutes at a time through a glass screen.
Just one prisoner released from Israel’s narrow and dirty cells, unfit for humans, is a victory.
No applause for the PA
But there’ll be never be applause for the Palestinian Authority, which, while giving up our basic rights, trades with Palestinians’ emotions towards their loved ones in Israeli prisons in order to give legitimacy to endless rounds of futile negotiations.
While forgetting its own crimes against us, including the countless ones for which no one has ever been held accountable, Israel always tries to highlight a few cases to paint Palestinians as monsters.
Over the decades, some 750,000 Palestinians have been in Israel’s prisons. They are the ones who willingly took on their shoulders the struggle to bringing back freedom, dignity and a just peace for their oppressed people.
For that they were willing to sacrifice the most precious of things: their freedom. We demand the release of all Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails and call for an immediate end to the abominable treatment of Palestinian detainees. Resistance to a brutal military occupation is not a crime, but a duty.
Our people’s sacrifices and ongoing suffering under this merciless occupation will not go in vain.
Freedom for all Palestinian political prisoners!