The Israeli decision to release security prisoners ahead of the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority ignited a public debate in Israel regarding the price of Israeli overtures, while Palestinians are equally divided regarding Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' rescinding of the Palestinian preconditions of settlement freeze and 1967 line as basis for talks.
Two top Palestinian journalists – a Fattah man supportive of the resumption of talks and a Hamas follower who opposes it vehemently – shed some light on Palestinian popular opinion.
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"This is our only way to explain to the world what we want. If we don't do it then we have no other effective way to demand what's rightfully ours," said the Fattah supporter.
According to him, "As long as we don't negotiate we lose land that is taken by the settlers and the Israeli government."
The journalist who sides with Hamas was determined in his objection to the renewed peace process. He explained that the Palestinian's first priority was a reconciliation between Fattah and Hamas, and that negotiations with Israel are at the reconciliation's expense.
"This is a zero-sum game," the Hamas spporter said. "As long as the PA walks the path toward a peace process with Israel, it is moving further away from achieving inner-Palestinian reconciliation. But it should be honestly said to the Israeli public that any step by the PA toward Hamas drives it further from reaching an agreement with Israel."
According to him, by holding the talks, Abbas is signaling Netanyahu his drawing away from reconciling with Hamas.
In the Fattah journalist's view, Abbas will be recorded in Palestinian history as the one who managed to free Palestinian icons from Israeli prisons by using diplomacy.
"The most critical issue for the Palestinian street is the issue of the prisoners, and that makes Abbas' achievement extremely important. He benefitted because his insistence vis-à-vis Kerry delivered. I'll say it conclusively: The Palestinians never believed it will be possible to free prisoners in a non-violent way, and he proved them wrong."
His Hamas colleague as well did not spare praises for the Palestinian president. "This is a massive success. I want to thank Abbas for this achievement. The Palestinian public appreciates any way to free prisoners, whether it's the Hamas way, which brought about the Shalit deal, or Abbas' way.
"To us it doesn't matter, as long as the prisoners are released." He mentioned as an example Mahmoud Issa, a senior Hamas militant who kidnapped and killed Border Guard officer Nisim Toledano in 1992, and admitted that Hamas failed to release him.
"And now, it's Abbas who will free one of Hamas' oldest prisoners in the Israeli jail," he said.
Though they may disagree on many issues, both journalists shared a grim view on the possible outcomes of the negotiations. "I don't believe Netanyahu and most Palestinians share my view, and therefore I find it difficult to believe that the new round of talks will result in a peace agreement," said the Fattah man.
"Also, if we examine the Israeli government in its whole – Netanyahu is surrounded by rightists who'll prevent him from reaching a decision and signing an agreement."
"The Palestinian street is completely divided on this issue," said the Hamas supporter, who stressed that a large section of the Palestinian public has different priorities. "It will not back Abbas' moves and therefore the PA will fear reaching a comprehensive agreement without national accord."
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