Op-Ed: Three Levels of Faulty Logic in Releasing Terrorists
During the course of Sunday, the main topic all the Israeli media news outlets was the impending release of 104 convicted terrorists. The explanation from all the pundits – both those who support the release and those who oppose it – was that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu faces a terribly difficult choice.
In order to renew negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas, he had to accept one of three conditions: to agree in principle to a complete withdrawal to the pre-Six Day War borders, to agree to a complete building freeze throughout Judea and Samaria, or to agree to release these convicted terrorists.
Netanyahu, everyone agreed, is opposed in principle to all these. However, he sees this mass release of terrorists as the least of the three evils.
This logic is faulty from its very foundation. It collapses on three different levels: historical, technical, and practical.
The first level is the historical. The ostensible basis of the Oslo process back in 1993 was that the Arabs had decommissioned terrorism. The Osloists argued that the “Palestinians” had abandoned terrorism. Supporting the PLO, according to this claim, no longer meant supporting terrorism and terrorists.
Now if the “Palestinians” really had eschewed terrorism, then their leaders today would not be so determined to free every last terrorist from Israeli prisons. Just as the post-war German leadership did not demand that imprisoned Nazi war criminals be released as a condition for living in peace with their erstwhile enemies, precisely because they had eschewed Nazism and did what they could to put their Nazi past behind them, so too if the “Palestinian” leadership had genuinely rejected terrorism (as the Osloists in Israel falsely claimed) then they would not now be clamouring for those terrorists to be released.
On a technical level, bribing the “Palestinians” to resume negotiations is absurd. Netanyahu has argued (maybe truthfully, it is impossible to be certain) that without this sweetener, Abbas would not resume negotiations. Maybe – but so what? Let’s say that negotiations do not resume. Very well – then what? Israel won’t be able to give up land? Israel won’t be able to release more terrorists? Israeli cities might be deprived of receiving ever more missiles? Suicide terrorist attacks might not resume? Israel might have to cope without thousands more terrorists carrying ever-more advanced weapons? Israel will face the threat of not having a recognised terrorist-controlled state overlooking Tel Aviv?
Is that really such a bleak prospect?
It is high time for the “Palestinians” to understand that they have far, far more to lose from stalled negotiations than Israel does. No negotiations simply mean retaining the status quo, which for Israel is really quite comfortable. Terrorism is down, the economy is if not exactly blossoming then at least growing (the Israel economy is currently healthier than much of Europe and North America), tourism is growing – in brief, Israel is living its national life quite comfortably.
The “Palestinians”, meanwhile, have everything to gain and nothing to lose from renewed negotiations. If any side should be making gestures in a desperate attempt to restart negotiations, then that side should be the “Palestinians”. And perhaps the most reassuring gesture they could make would be to genuinely reject terrorism, and to demonstrate that rejection by not demanding the release of terrorists.
Of course the US administration desperately wants negotiations to restart, and it is likely that Netanyahu has caved in to massive American pressure rather than to “Palestinian” pressure.
But America, too, has far more to gain from negotiations than Israel does, and far more to lose from a stalled negotiation process. Given the current events in Syria and Egypt, and given the sudden shifts which have set Hamas and Hizbullah against each other as enemies and the Syrian government and Iran as allies, President Obama is desperate for influence somewhere in the Middle East.
Here, too, Netanyahu has far more leverage over the US than the US has over Israel. Netanyahu could have demanded almost anything from the US in return for agreeing to return to negotiations with Abbas: that Pollard be released, that the US support Israel’s right to build anywhere in Judea and Samaria, that the US move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – the possibilities are legion.
Finally on a practical level, the claim is that by releasing 104 terrorists, Netanyahu avoided both a building freeze in Judea and Samaria and also having to accept the pre-Six Day War boundaries as a basis for the future Palestinian state.
Now if you believe that claim, then I have a bridge over the River Jordan you might like to buy. (The bridge hasn’t been built yet, but don’t let that disturb you.) Netanyahu has stated that he expects these talks to last some nine months. Does he, or anyone in the world, really believe that during these nine months Abbas will not demand a building freeze? And does anyone really believe that Netanyahu will stand up to combined Arab, European, and American pressure?
Since Netanyahu is inevitably going to accept a building freeze in the near future, then why bother pretending that freeing these prisoners will make any difference?
And with regard to the pre-Six Day War boundaries – Netanyahu has already de facto accepted those boundaries as the starting point for any future agreement. Indeed the entire world – the Arab bloc, Europe, the USA, the UN – takes it as a given that Israel will have to withdraw to the 1949 cease-fire lines.
So by releasing 104 terrorists before negotiations have even begun, Netanyahu has simply given the “Palestinians” part of what they wanted while receiving absolutely nothing in return. The only definite result is that some of the most vicious and experienced terrorists will return to the ranks to train and encourage future terrorists, and all potential terrorists will be encouraged by seeing that even those who do get caught have ever-increasing probability of being released.
The most likely scenario is that this release will be the basis for negotiations, which will inevitably bring about greater Israeli concessions, which in turn will inevitably cause even more terrorist attacks against Israel. The best scenario Israel can hope for is that this encouragement for terrorism will be the only result of the terrorist release.