Up to Israel to salvage peace process

Current peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians are in jeopardy of collapsing after Israel reneged on its agreement to release Palestinian prisoners. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised the prisoner release by the end of March as part of the terms of agreement between the two sides. However, Netanyahu's refusal to follow through on his commitment has left the U.S.-brokered negotiations in crisis.

Secretary of State John Kerry testified April 8 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that his attempts to bring the two sides together faltered after Israel refused to release prisoners and then moved forward with plans to build new settlement housing in Jerusalem. “Seven hundred settlement units were announced in Jerusalem and, poof, that was sort of the moment,” Kerry said.

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In retaliation for Israel's breaking of the agreement, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has signed documents seeking membership in 15 international treaties and conventions, after securing international legitimacy for Palestine as a non-member observer state in the United Nations in November 2012. The latest move is significant in light of the fact that Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal under the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention and Abbas could use international treaties and conventions to hold Israel accountable for its settlement policies and other lawless actions.

Moreover, with its new non-member observer state status at the UN, Palestine is now in a position to take its grievances to the International Criminal Court. If the court were to declare Israeli settlements illegal, it could lead to other Palestinian efforts to secure long overdue justice under international law.

Israel's continued expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem is a major obstacle to a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During nearly 47 years of Israeli military occupation, Israel has denied Palestinians their land rights, water rights, human rights, and their right to self-determination. In addition, settlements are not only a threat to the territorial integrity of a future Palestinian state but also threaten the dream of a democratic Jewish state which is incompatible with permanent Israeli occupation.

As a first step to salvage the troubled peace talks, Israel must live up to its commitments and demonstrate its good faith in negotiations by releasing the Palestinian prisoners. Israel's breaking of agreements is a non-starter for getting Palestinians to stay at the negotiating table and is counterproductive to building any degree of trust between the two parties. But, perhaps sabotaging the negotiations is Netanyahu's ultimate intention.    

The week of April 14, Jews around the world observe the holiday of Passover, which celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. This Passover is an opportunity for Israeli leaders to reflect on the continued stalemate in the peace process and to consider the moral and political imperatives to removing the shackles of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian people. It's time to end Israeli rule over 2.7 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, which has only served as a cancer on the Israeli body politic and to suffocate Palestine's legitimate national aspirations. 

Slabodkin is a former opposition researcher for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).