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Release of Palestinian Prisoners Not a License for Creeping Annexation

Did US Secretary of State John Kerry know that Israel would approve new settlements after releasing Palestinian prisoners?
Palestinian labourers work on a construction site in Ramat Shlomo, a religious Jewish settlement in an area of the occupied West Bank Israel annexed to Jerusalem October 30, 2013. Israel announced plans on Wednesday to build hundreds of new settlement homes on land that the Palestinians want for a future state, hours after it released a group of Palestinian prisoners from its jails.   REUTERS/Baz Ratner (WEST BANK - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION POLITICS) - RTX14TMP

The news that Israel released 26 Palestinian prisoners today, Oct. 30, was accompanied by an Israeli Interior Ministry announcement that it will proceed with the plan to build 1,500 housing units in Ramat Shlomo, a settlement in the occupied West Bank that Israel considers part of Jerusalem. As the Palestinian families welcomed the freed prisoners, the spokesman of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared the settlement decision to be "destructive for the peace process."

Well, better late than never! To reinforce this statement, Abbas, when welcoming the released prisoners, said, "The settlements are void, void, void." Either Abbas is in denial or his spokesman has adequately described the outcome. There is no question that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans for each release of prisoners, in installments, to be accompanied by establishing settlements in installments!

The serious question is whether US Secretary of State John Kerry knew of this prisoner release and settlement transaction. If this is not the agreement that Kerry came to with Netanyahu, it is hoped that a clarification statement is forthcoming.

Before it is too late, this should lead Abbas to reintroduce the Palestinian state under occupation, which is recognized by the 153 UN members, as the only body that can negotiate the rights of the Palestinians, as opposed to  the so-called “peace process” discussions. If the Palestinian state under occupation, as spelled out by UN resolution, is not the negotiating authority, then the Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah would be erroneously using the term “negotiations,” when in reality it would only be undertaking futile discussions, with Israel buying time to further expand and control Palestinian territories.

It is high time that the Palestine Liberation Organization undertakes a serious reassessment before the futile discussions that  have been taking place since before Oslo make Palestine a state of mind rather than an actual state. It is time for this reassessment so that Abbas' statement during the welcoming of freed prisoners — “The settlements are void, void, void” — becomes a reality rather than wishful thinking.

Clovis Maksoud is a former ambassador and permanent observer of the League of Arab States at the United Nations and its chief representative in the United States for more than 10 years.