The Daily Star (Editorial)
October 19, 2011 - 12:00am

The international media focused Tuesday on the prisoner swap between Israel and the Palestinians, highlighting the theme of an end to a five-year saga. The release of more than 1,000 Palestinian detainees and prisoners is certainly a welcome sight, but one must remember that around 10,000 more such cases remain. Commentators have been enthusiastic in citing the huge number of Palestinians swapped for a single Israeli soldier; they’re not nearly as enthusiastic in talking about the huge number of prisoners who are behind bars in the first place, swept up under the category of “terrorist” while most are simply fighting an unjust foreign occupation.

Moreover, some of those who are being released as a part of the deal are not allowed to return home; they will be going to places that are not of their choosing, and will face the difficulty of integration, in new countries.

But the most significant developments are yet to come, as Tuesday’s prisoner swap generates serious challenges on two fronts.

An upcoming meeting of the International Quartet, in the wake of the Israel-Hamas prisoner deal, is now taking on added significance. The swap demonstrated that the process of negotiations between enemies have a hope of success. It obviously required many rounds of meetings and discussions, but the latest deal shows that such efforts can succeed.

The Quartet will be expected to play its proper role in eliminating the complications surrounding a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Officials from the Quartet will have to realize that they cannot just go through the motions of issuing statements that express a hope for peace. The international community must either facilitate things, or better still, exert pressure on the belligerent party, Israel, in order to make real progress. Otherwise, the general public can do without the photo-op diplomacy of empty meetings.

Meanwhile, as the latest attempt to re-start the peace process approaches, the Palestinians face the challenge of presenting a unified position. Fatah and Hamas are supposedly reconciled; will their newfound rapprochement manage to contribute anything useful to the negotiation tug-of-war?

The Jewish state will not act like a charity organization; it will act based on what its leaders see as the national interest. If there is no Palestinian determination to negotiate as a unified team, the Israelis will play on this weakness and fall back on the old “no partner for peace” strategy.

This week’s prisoner swap demonstrates that the Israelis do respond to pressure, whether domestic or external. The next round of peace negotiations, should they take shape, will be yet another disappointment unless the two missing sides to the equation step up their performance, and supply this pressure. The Palestinians and the Quartet have their work cut out for them.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017