According to Palestinian officials in Ramallah, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas might agree to extend peace negotiations beyond the April 29 deadline set by US Secretary of State John Kerry. But on one condition: that Israel proceeds with the release of the fourth and last batch of 26 Palestinian terrorists presently imprisoned in Israel.
There is nothing particularly magnanimous in Abbas’s offer. This is the same Abbas who just this week at the Arab League summit in Kuwait all but buried any chances that the present talks would succeed, by refusing even to consider recognizing Israel as the state of the Jewish people.
Abbas’s Kuwait performance was another example of how depressingly little goodwill there is on the side of the Palestinians. Recognition is an issue on which the Palestinians could have shown flexibility.
On other issues the situation is no less bleak. The sides are deeply split on anything from military arrangements in the Jordan Valley to the return of Palestinian “refugees,” to the status of Jerusalem, to the question of settlement blocs.
Under the circumstances, with practically no headway made in the talks till now, what good could possibly come of the release of prisoners, many of whom are murderers? Indeed, the very concept of releasing prisoners is morally problematic. When the present round of negotiations was launched under the ambitious leadership of Kerry, we opposed the very concept. Conditioning Palestinian agreement to talk on the release of Palestinian terrorists – many of whom are guilty of the intentional murder of women and children and the elderly – made no sense, we argued, as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continued to rage. At the end of a process of reconciliation and mutual recognition between Israelis and Palestinians, it could conceivably be argued that the release of prisoners would be a part of a healing process. These prisoners would in that future day of peace not be received as heroes by Palestinian society, but as sad reminders of a violent time when Palestinians mistakenly believed that they could use terrorism to secure a homeland.
The terrorists slated to be released are a particularly gruesome bunch. There is the murderer of Ofra Moses, 34, and her son Tal, 5. He firebombed their car near Alfei Menashe in April 1987. There are the terrorists who kidnapped the hitchhiking soldier Avraham Bromberg, shot him in the head, and left him to die on the side of the road. There are also the murderers of Rachel Weiss and her three children, killed along with soldier David Delarosa, who died trying valiantly to save them when their bus was firebombed in October 1988. And this is by no means an exhaustive list of the heinous murderers slated to be released. It seems some of the very worst terrorists were saved for last specifically to prevent precisely the situation we now face – namely that terrorists will be released while the Palestinians will remain intransigent and offer nothing in return.
Some, like Meretz MK Zehava Galon, have argued that Israel has already locked itself into an obligation to release Palestinian prisoners and cannot violate its commitment. If there were some headway in the talks and the Palestinians were willing to show some flexibility, we would agree with Galon. The working assumption, however, was that Israel would stay committed to releasing prisoners as long as there would be progress in the talks. But with the process on the verge of collapse, there is no longer any rationale behind the release, even according to the original agreement.
Abbas is now threatening to appeal to the international community to wage a diplomatic war against Israel. But it is still not too late. The Palestinians can still save the talks by showing a willingness to work together with Israel to reach an agreement. Another opportunity for peace may or may not be missed.
But what is certain is that releasing more Palestinian terrorists will do nothing to improve the chance for peace.