Supporters wait for release of prisoners near Ofer prison.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu undoubtedly had a hard time at the Sunday
cabinet meeting convincing his ministers that it is in Israel’s interest to
release 104 terrorists from prison in the interests of advancing peace talks
with the Palestinians. These are people who were arrested and found guilty by
Israeli courts of some of the most brutal, deadly attacks ever perpetrated
against Israeli men, women and children in the years leading up to the signing
of the Oslo Accords in 1993.
But he succeeded: Thirteen cabinet ministers
voted in favor, seven against and two abstained.
“This moment is not easy
for me. It is not easy for the ministers. It is not easy especially for the
families, the bereaved families, whose heart I understand,” Netanyahu said. “But
there are moments in which tough decisions must be made for the good of the
country and this is one of those moments.”
Netanyahu – who in his
political career has written clearly and spoken out publicly against releasing
terrorists – is well aware of how problematic the move is. Difficulties are
multiplied when Israel receives nothing tangible in return, as appears to be the
case in the present deal.
Admittedly, there may be several factors
mitigating in favor of the prisoner release. Previous deals, such as the 2011
Gilad Schalit prisoner swap or the 2008 exchange for the bodies of Ehud
Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, were made with terrorist organizations that called
for the destruction of Israel and did not hide the fact that they were actively
working toward that end.
In contrast, the present concession is being
made to the Palestinian Authority, which at least ostensibly has renounced
terrorism and has accepted in principle a two-state solution to the
And while the Obama administration has
never explicitly linked progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front to support for
Israel’s right to defend itself against the existential threat posed by Iran’s
relentless nuclear march, Netanyahu does not want to alienate the White House at
a time when the Iranian regime is poised to reach nuclear “breakout”
What’s more, Netanyahu wants to avoid a situation in which
Israel is blamed for torpedoing hopes for the renewal of peace negotiations with
the Palestinians. This is particular pertinent after US Secretary of State John
Kerry invested so much time and energy in reviving the long-stalled talks. The
very fact that Kerry has shuttled back and forth six times generates its own
indirect pressure on Israel.
Netanyahu has also received the assurances
of the Shin Bet and the IDF that Israel’s security establishment can thwart any
future dangers created by the release of experienced
Nevertheless, the agreement to release 104 terrorists at such
an early stage seems premature. Actual negotiations have not even begun and even
the “contours and modalities” of the future talks have yet to be hammered
Based on the track record for past talks, there is a good chance
that terrorists will be released for naught. Freeing these hardcore convicts
should come, if ever, at the end of the peace process when the Palestinians have
agreed to live in peace alongside a Jewish state.
The fact that even
“moderate” Palestinian leaders seem obsessed with securing the freedom of
prisoners convicted of murdering Jewish civilians and that these terrorists are
regularly glorified as heroes reflects a great deal about their
None of this bodes well for talks whose success depends on
Palestinians being reconciled to Israel’s existence.
Israel should not
have to foot the bill for the failure of the Palestinian leadership to prepare
its people for peace with the Jewish state. And no Israeli who has already
experienced the unfathomable pain of knowing that another person intentionally
killed a loved one should be forced to endure the additional torture of seeing
that murderer go free in exchange for the dubious prospect of a renewed peace
What’s more, by caving in to the Palestinian demand to pardon
terrorists convicted of murdering innocent civilians, Israel blurs the clear
differentiation that must be made between legitimate political activity used by
Palestinians in pursuit of self-determination and the illegitimate use of
terrorism to further their political goals.
Resuming negotiations toward
a two-state solution is no more an Israeli interest than it is a Palestinian
Israel should not have been forced to pay such a hefty price,
nor should it have agreed to do so.