Comment: Palestinian prisoner release - Here we go again

Those who urged Israel to swallow the bitter pill of a prisoner release need to be no less persuasive in getting the Palestinians to tone down the hero worship expected to greet the release of the prisoners.

Abbas greets prisoners 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini)
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 “glorious” exploits.
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 Authority.
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 confidence.
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 Israel’s reality.
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.
Only 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.”
But 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 murderers.
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.
Call it encouraging Palestinian confidence-building measures.