The prisoner release: The right thing at the wrong time

We have already made enough goodwill gestures that have gotten us nowhere.

Palestinians protest for release of prisoners 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinians protest for release of prisoners 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last week’s vote by Israel’s Cabinet to approve the release of 104 Palestinian terrorists with blood on their hands may have been the right move in the context of the restarted peace talks, but definitely came at the wrong time.
As a businessperson I enter into negotiations with prospective clients all the time in an effort to craft an agreement that addresses both the client’s need to have work done to his/her satisfaction and our need to be properly compensated.
But we never enter into a negotiation by saying to the other party, “Don’t worry, whatever we agree upon, at the end of the day we will give you an additional 10 percent off the final price.”
That would be a stupid and irresponsible tactic that simply sets the wrong tone for the negotiation from the start. And yet, this is exactly what Israel is asked to do time and time again and, sadly, agrees to time and time again.
The demand by the Palestinians that we release long-held prisoners is part of a long list of demands that are made every time we speak about returning to the negotiating table. These also include negotiations based on the 1967 borders, a cessation of building in communities over the Green Line, as well as a relaxation of checkpoints which we operate in the interests of our own security but which they see as blocking their free movement. But why do we need to continue to agree to these demands as a precondition to negotiation? It just does not make sense.
What we could have done, and which would have been more palatable to the great bulk of us who want to believe in peace but are justifiably wary of the longterm intentions of the other side, is to agree to the release in principle, but with implementation dependent on the conclusion of an agreement.
We understand the demand and clearly are willing to release these 104 people in the framework of some peace agreement and a cessation of the conflict, but not as a goodwill gesture before the talks even begin. We have already made enough goodwill gestures that have gotten us nowhere.
Now some will say, well, we had no choice because the pressure from the US was too intense and in the face of growing isolation from the EU we had to do this.
Yet, those same elements that pressure us exert no pressure on the other side.
Witness the statement made by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a recent briefing to Egyptian journalists in Cairo: “In a final solution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands.” So much for a quid pro quo in response to the vote of Israel’s Cabinet to authorize the release of those 104 prisoners.
We know all too well, as does Abbas (whose doctoral dissertation was a treatise on Holocaust denial) what the words “final solution” conveys and we dare not be lulled into a false sense of security once again.
Israel’s Cabinet, led by our prime minister, made a tactical error in agreeing to the release in advance of the talks. The fact that our most important ally in the world was clearly the catalyst should give us all cause for concern.
Carol Frohlinger, of Negotiating Women Inc., often remarks: “Don’t bargain yourself down before you get to the table.” Too bad our leadership has not learned that as well.
The author is president of Atid EDI Ltd., an economic development consulting firm, and a past national president of AACI.