By Barry Rubin
What is truly puzzling about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposing to release more than 100 of the worst Palestinian terrorists to have ever murdered Israelis is that it is so impossible to figure out any reason to do so. It is not just that one might oppose this plan, it is that I cannot think of a single reason for supporting it.
Let’s go very carefully through the arguments and try to find one.
It is true, of course, that Israel has released prisoners before. Yet this was under different circumstances.
In one case, prisoners, sometimes in very large numbers, were released in exchange for Israeli soldiers. This could be controversial but also one could make a case for it. The prisoners might have been convicted on less serious charges or they might have been near the end of their imprisonment. There was a nobility in putting the value of Israelis high, keeping the promise of doing everything possible to release them. And while the families of the victims could be considered so were the families of the captives.
A second rationale for such releases is if there is a calculation of diplomatic gain. Perhaps the release of some prisoners will help bring a ceasefire or get serious negotiations going—when we thought that these were possible—or get some valuable gains or material benefits from the West.
I have supported such past releases, painful and dangerous as they were.But the curiosity here is why Israel is releasing the worst terrorists for no gain, not even good publicity?
Surely it isn’t to win domestic popularity because Israelis hate this decision.
Nor is it related to the previous Netanyahu strategy which has been to humor Obama, play along, keep him happy, make minimal and low-cost concessions, and let the PA show it doesn’t want to make peace.
Nor will it get Israel any good public image in Europe or America. On the contrary, the mass media will not tell the readers and viewers the extent of the crimes perpetrated by these terrorists or what would generate sympathy for the real victims. No. If anything the coverage will emphasize sympathy for the terrorists’ families and leave the impression that the terrorists were political prisoners arrested for no good reasons by the cruel occupation authorities.
Is the PA offering something? No. Any hint that the PA will suspend the demand that all Palestinians can come live in Israel (and subvert it), or that it will recognize Israel as a Jewish state, or that the pre-1970 lines be altered in Israel’s favor are simply not going to happen.
Any concession will be pocketed and then the PA will demand more. We know that. The strategy of unilateral creation of Palestine, without any deal at all, will continue.
Okay, so perhaps some big prize will be given by the United States? Like what? In Egypt and Syria the United States is supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, against Israel’s interests. In Turkey, Obama loves an anti-Israel Turkish government.
Is there some secret American promise? But what is an Obama promise worth? Two examples. Obama has gone back on a pledge to support a frontier change to allow Israel to include large settlement blocs.
And then there was Turkey where President Obama personally mediated a deal with Turkey in which Israel made concessions, than did nothing when Turkey ignored all the provisions and openly broke the agreement.
In fact, remember how Obama asked Israel for a construction freeze on settlements and then gave it no credit when it did so twice!
Perhaps the secret promise pertains to Iran and its nuclear weapons drive. But what would that be? Is the Obama Administration going to attack Iran or cooperate with Israel in doing so? Of course not. And even if such a promise was made does anyone believe this?
Merely to continue past presidencies’ policies toward Israel would not be sufficient to get such continued concessions in exchange for nothing new.
Or was there a credible threat against Israel, that Obama would do something terrible or apply pressure if he didn’t get his way? Yet as the saying goes in Hebrew, yesh gavul, there’s a limit.
As for the nominal reason for the Netanyahu policy, the prime minister has said that perhaps there is some real chance for peace this time. He just doesn’t believe that.
What is the real effect of this policy?
–To undermine Israel credibility.
–To increase the risk from terrorism to Israeli citizens.
–To build confidence in Palestinian intransigence.
–To encourage Palestinians to commit terrorism believing there will be no or a reduced price.
–To convince the PA’s belief that it can get something for nothing.
–To persuade Europeans and Americans that they can endlessly pressure Israelis into concessions. (Would America release al-Qaida terrorists from Guantanamo Bay prison in the belief that this would lead them to make pace?)
I just don’t get it and there is simply no proper motive for following—or needing to pursue—such a terrible policy.
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Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs
(GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International
Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press.
Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition),
The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle
East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.