Israeli Arab and Palestinian activists hold placards during a protest outside an Israeli prison in Ramle near Tel Aviv calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails (Reuters / Ammar Awad)
Israelâ€™s announcement that it has canceled the release of Palestinian prisoners is just the latest derailment to a peace process that had slim prospects in the first place. Since August of 2013, Israel has released Palestinian prisoners in three waves, as part of an agreement to reignite the peace process.
The release of these prisoners has proven deeply unpopular among the Israeli public, further illustrating the divide between Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestinians see these men as heroes who have made an enormous sacrifice in the fight for the freedom of their people. They are being welcomed home by family and friends who have not seen their relatives in many years.
The Israelis see these men as terrorists who have, in some cases, killed Israelis. The Israeli view is that because these men were convicted and placed in prison, they should serve out the remainders of their terms, which are in some cases life sentences.
As previous groups of Palestinian prisoners were released, Israelis flocked to the streets to express their displeasure. The recent prisoner release was canceled, however, because the Palestinians had taken â€œunilateral steps,â€ toward statehood, according to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
These â€œunilateral stepsâ€ involved Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas applying to several UN conventions. Abbas maintains that Israel had already failed to honor its promises, arguing that the latest movement toward UN recognition did not derail the peace process.
The recent round of negotiations first began in August of 2013. Although they have recently stalled, the deadline to restart talks is April 29th. If the talks cannot be restarted by then, then this will be the most recent of many rounds of negotiations to end in deadlock.
Netanyahu is right about one crucial thing: no matter how many nations or UN conventions recognize Palestine as a state, the only way for a tangible state to emerge on the ground is through an agreement with Israel. Abbas does not expect a Palestinian state to result from UN recognition, but this is one of the few forms of leverage that can be used to extract concessions from the Israelis.
This is the reality for both sides: they are more interested in obtaining concessions from each other than truly establishing a peaceful settlement. However, this attitude does nothing to end the conflict, instead exacerbating the divisions between both sides.
Israel has lived in relative peace for the past decades, and its citizens see little incentive for changing the status quo. As a result, Israeli leaders like Netanyahu are finding it difficult to justify concessions, like prisoner-releases, to the Israeli public. The public on the Palestinian side is truly disillusioned with the entire peace process. They see it as a complete waste of time, doomed to fail, with the Palestinian people taking the blame yet again.
Both sides need strong incentives to continue negotiating, and these incentives are simply not present. However, as leaders continually fail to resolve the conflict, the divisions become more unresolvable. Israeli settlements continue to encroach upon Palestinian land, further decreasing the possibility of creating a Palestinian state. Attitudes continue to harden on both sides, making the resolution of the conflict more urgent than ever.