Our memories tend to be so short that all too often déjà vu looks brand new.
This is the case with the looming release of 82 convicted terrorists to
facilitate the opening of yet another round of negotiations with the Palestinian
Authority. But we’ve been there and seen that.
Demanding “gestures of
goodwill” and “confidence building measures” from Israel as a price for showing
up for talks is a routine Palestinian tactic. It crops up with each attempt to
resuscitate contacts and always takes the same shape.
Each time Ramallah
portrays convicted terrorists as prisoners of conscience while Israel pays
heftily for the privilege of parleying. Paying for the launch of negotiations is
presented anew as a necessary evil, an unavoidable realpolitik tax. It seems
more prudent to pay up than be stigmatized as intransigent.
The last time
this pattern asserted itself was in the autumn of 2007, as the government of
Ehud Olmert prepared to buy Palestinian participation at the Annapolis
conference that eventually opened on November 27.
As is planned now, the
releases then were phased. In August, 255 convicts were let loose followed by 87
more in October. Most were members of Fatah, the Popular Front and the
Democratic Front. About 30 of the total were released to the Gaza Strip.
Then-opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu vehemently castigated the
As in Netanyahu’s current rerun of the scenario, the
rationale underlying the 2007 unilateral “gestures of goodwill” was that the
release of terrorists to Hamas’s competitor bolsters Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah
Astoundingly, the same key assumptions are still made – as if no
lessons were learned. The first is that it is to Israel’s advantage to bail out
Fatah and intervene in intra-Palestinian struggles.
This, despite the
fact that Fatah is hardly a friendly force.
Its claim of dedication to
peace has been rendered exceedingly dubious by its massive and deadly terrorist
onslaughts, particularly those post-Oslo, though its chiefs pro forma endorsed
the accords and prodigiously benefited from them.
There is, of course,
the school of thought that maintains Fatah ought to be boosted as the lesser of
the evils facing Israel. Fatah, it is argued, is preferable to Hamas and may
possibly – despite all the betrayals of its solemn undertakings – yet emerge as
a trustworthy interlocutor and peace partner.
Not only has this not
occurred, but the PA’s unilateral initiatives at the UN belie this premise.
Nonetheless, according to this opinion, it behooves Israel to take chances to
build up confidence and shore up that Palestinian leader with whom it might
perhaps proceed to deal with at some juncture, his proven weakness
Were there a realistic probability of changing minds on
the other side, such risks might be quasi-tolerable.
The problem begins
with how they are perceived by the other side. They are not seen as benevolent
concessions by a society with a genuinely independent legal system, which allows
its most implacable enemies their day in court, strictly adhering even to the
minutiae of due process. Nothing of the sort exists in the PA or indeed in any
Arab state. Overruling court verdicts undermines the validity of our
The PA never owned up to the fact that these convicts were
found guilty and deserved to be sentenced, as they would be in any democratic
setting with a sense of self preservation.
What is the value of compromise
without acceptance of the fundamental prohibition against attacking civilians?
The PA never cracked down on terrorism despite myriad promises. Moreover, its
headliners funded, nurtured and dispatched these very murderers. The PA
officially celebrates them as heroes instead of condemning them as
The impression deliberately imparted by Palestinian spokesmen
is that these prisoners were arbitrarily and unjustly incarcerated.
is no PA appreciation for these releases. Each Israeli goodwill measure is
greeted with ill-will and fiery rhetoric about how insufficient the concession
Such ingratitude undercuts the cost-benefit
Whatever Israelis reckon, the grasp of reality in the PA is
radically different and far from hope-inspiring. Each release is likely to do
little more than erode what remains of already-diminished Israeli deterrence.