An end-of-year Guardian report by Peter Beaumont (2014 in review: return to conflict in Gaza claimed 2000 lives) on the most significant events in the region in 2014 naturally highlighted the breakdown of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in late April.
Beaumont’s report begins with these opening paragraphs, which lead to a passage blaming Israel for the breakdown:
This was a year that tested – largely to destruction – the notion you can have stability and quiet in the absence of a Middle East peace process. Instead, 2014 in Israel and the Palestinian territories was marked by a return to conflict in Gaza, which claimed over 2,200 lives, by increasing violence and tension on both sides, continued Israeli settlement building, and the introduction of a worrying religious aspect to the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.
The fulcrum around which all this turned was the breakdown of renewed US-brokered attempts to move towards a final settlement of the conflict, which collapsed in April amid mutual recriminations after Israel reneged on an agreement to release a third batch of long-term Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
However, as Peter Beaumont acknowledged in a Guardian report published on April 29th, the circumstances surrounding Israel’s reluctance to release the final prisoners were much more complicated, and can’t reasonably be framed as an Israeli failure to abide by its commitments.
Beaumont, in his April 29th story, specifically addressed the question of who was to blame, thusly:
Kerry has blamed both sides, most recently last Friday in private comments made in Washington when he suggested that a change of the leadership either in Israel or Palestine could provide the impetus for a breakthrough.
The talks, however, foundered on the failure of a deal made nine months ago under which the Palestinians suspended unilateral moves to join international bodies and treaties – steps towards recognition of Palestine as a de facto state – in exchange for the release of four groups of long-term prisoners held in Israeli jails. Those prisoners, 14 of them Arab-Israelis, had all been in Israeli jails since before the 1993 Oslo Accord. Before the release of the fourth group, Israel asked the Palestinian side to agree to an extension of talks.
Abbas, of course, refused to make such a commitment.
Both sides blame the other for bad faith in the negotiations. Following Israel’s refusal to release the final group of prisoners, Abbas responded by reinstating his suspended bid to apply to join a series of international bodies. Last week he initiated reconciliation talks with Hamas, which triggered Israel’s suspension of the talks.
So, Beaumont at least implicitly made clear in his April 29th account – contradicting his most recent assertion that talks broke down only after Israel “reneged on an agreement to release the remaining prisoners – that several dynamics contributed to the suspension of talks.
1. The Palestinians wouldn’t agree to extend the April 29th deadline. So, as the release of prisoners was always meant to serve as an incentive for the Palestinians to keep negotiating, Israel refused to release the final batch until Abbas agreed to extend the talks.
2. Abbas responded to Israel’s reluctance – absent an agreement to extend talks – to release the prisoners by “reinstating his suspended bid to apply to join a series of international bodies”.
3. Abbas then “initiated reconciliation talks with Hamas, which triggered Israel’s suspension of the talks“.
Whilst there was a series of events which led to the breakdown of talks (including Abbas’s failure to agree to a framework agreement, accepted by Israel, in a meeting with Obama in March) Beaumont’s new claim that talks ended only “after Israel reneged on an agreement to release a third batch of…prisoners” isn’t a fair accounting of events, and is contradicted by Peter Beaumont’s own previous account.
Once again, Peter Beaumont contracts Peter Beaumont.