Abbas greets prisoners 311 R.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini)
We know the drill all too well.
At the end of the day, with all the pain
and agony that it entails, Israel will release Palestinian terrorists who
murdered scores of innocent people.
And these murderers will be hailed as
heroes in Hebron and Ramallah and Jenin. Parades will be held in their honor,
flowers thrown at the bus carrying them home, poems written about their
It’s bad enough to free the terrorists, and that bad
will be made even worse by the reception they will receive in the Palestinian
Some will argue, “What do you care about how they are
received? Your terrorists are their freedom fighters.”
But we do care
about how they are received. It matters. It sets tone and atmosphere. It says
something about our peacemaking partners. It chips away at our
Israel’s release of the Palestinian prisoners will be
trumpeted around the world as an Israeli “confidencebuilding” measure. And that
is part of the problem. The Palestinians, backed by the world, consistently
demand that Israel build up their confidence. But how about Israeli confidence?
What is being done to rebuild an Israeli confidence trampled by the second
intifada and stomped upon by the thousands of rockets that fell on Israel after
it withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005? What are the Palestinians doing to
convince Israelis that something fundamental has changed, and that they do want
to live in peace and security next to Israel, not on top of it? Have they toned
down the rhetoric? Have the rocks stopped being hurled at Israeli cars over the
Green Line? Has a Palestinian version of Peace Now, perhaps funded by the EU,
swept up the masses to push Palestinian society to an acceptance of Israel, and
to press the PA government to drop its maximalist demands and return in earnest
to talks? Have pro-peace rallies broken out throughout the West Bank? Many in
the world will laugh at the idea of having to build Israel’s confidence, saying
it is not for the weaker side – the Palestinians – to build up the confidence of
the stronger – Israel.
But those making that argument are blind to
The second intifada was a watershed moment for Israeli
society. This was when a lack of physical security was brought home to every
Israeli man, woman and child. It was when riding a bus in Jerusalem was more
dangerous then patrolling along the Lebanese border. This was a trauma that has
not been erased.
Indeed it was compounded in 2005 when, after Israel
withdrew from Gaza, a million people in the South were forced to begin living
with the insecurity of knowing that at any moment a primitive rocket could come
crashing through their living room window.
That type of reality – the
mindnumbing terrorism of the second intifada and the insecurity born by living
under the specter of rocket fire from Gaza – can just suck the confidence right
out of you.
Senior US officials involved in the current diplomatic
process are well aware, and empathetic, of Israel’s security concern. Indeed,
they often say that not only do they understand it, but they are trying to
increase the average Israeli’s sense of security by funding Iron Dome and
training Palestinian security officers.
But this Israeli confidence
cannot just be built up by anything the Americans do. It can help, but it is not
enough. This confidence can only be built up by the Palestinians.
the Palestinians can give Israelis the feeling that something has changed, that
this time something is different. Demanding the release of 100 murderers does
not do the trick. What will make matters worse is to have these murderers then
hailed again by the Palestinians as heroes.
If the Palestinians are
indeed serious about the upcoming round of talks, they need to make that
apparent to the Israeli public. One way to do this is not to celebrate the
release of terrorists who threw petrol bombs into buses and incinerated innocent
men, women and children.
Earlier this month, when Americans were debating
the acquittal of George Zimmerman for second-degree murder in the fatal shooting
of 17-year-old African-American high school student Trayvon Martin, a quote
attributed to American novelist William Gaddis was frequently cited: “Justice?
You get justice in the next world. In this world, you have the law.”
in the debate over the Palestinian prisoner release, not only is there no
justice, there is also no law, because the law that put the terrorists behind
bars is being set aside.
In the absence of justice or law, Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu is arguing that there may be some benefit in releasing the
prisoners, in terms of an improvement of Israel’s status in the world, and an
improvement of Israel’s ties with the Palestinians.
But for the public to
get fully behind that process, it will need to see the benefits. Those benefits
will be obscured by Palestinians seen celebrating the release of
Those in Washington and elsewhere who urged Israel to swallow
the bitter pill of a prisoner release in order to restart the diplomatic process
need to be no less persuasive now in getting the Palestinians to tone down the
hero worship expected to greet the release of the prisoners.
encouraging Palestinian confidence-building measures.