Two months ago I reported here that Secretary of State John Kerry was—in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon terror attack—pressuring Israel to release heinous terrorists from prison.
The rationale: such a release was being demanded by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, and would get him to resume peace negotiations with Israel after stonewalling them for four years.
It was reported at the time that the Israeli government was against the idea.
Kerry is set to return to Israel and the Palestinian Authority in late June—his fifth visit since taking office—for yet another round of trying to wheedle and propitiate Abbas into consenting to negotiate with Israel.
And again—at least according to some worried Israeli Knesset members—releasing terrorists may be on the agenda.
On Sunday Israel National News reported that
The Land of Israel Lobby in the Knesset…has sprung into action with a new proposal aimed at ending the phenomenon of prime ministers releasing terrorists from prison as a “goodwill gesture.”
…The new proposal comes as rumors abound that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is planning to release roughly 100 terrorists as a goodwill gesture to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Since Israeli prisoner releases have to be approved by the president—currently Shimon Peres—the proposal would deny the president the right to do so except in cases of early releases for humanitarian reasons or releases as part of swaps for captive Israelis.
In fact, a poll earlier this month found that 85 percent of Israeli Jews oppose releasing terrorists as a gesture to enable negotiations.
The Israel National News report, however, gives a list of the members of Knesset who so far have signed the proposal. It turns out that all of them are either from the right-of-center Likud and Bayit Yehudi/Jewish Home parties (which are part of the governing coalition) or the right-leaning Shas and Torah Judaism religious parties (which are not).
In other words, it appears—at least so far—that all of the centrist and moderate-left MKs (whether from inside or outside the coalition) are out of step with most of their voters in being prepared to accept a terrorists-for-talks swap.
As for Netanyahu, it’s to be hoped that the abovementioned rumors about his own readiness for such a “gesture” are wrong.
Netanyahu has already gone far in adjusting his policies to pressures from the Obama administration—by repeatedly pronouncing himself in favor of a Palestinian state that would be demilitarized under Israeli supervision and recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and by, in his previous term, ordering a ten-month settlement freeze that was also aimed at getting Abbas to negotiate.
Those moves are defensible as means to keep U.S.-Israeli relations on track at a time of heightened regional threats and intensified U.S.-Israeli security cooperation.
Freeing murderers from prison as a way of appeasing Abbas, however, would not be justified in those terms. If there is a case where Netanyahu has to substitute principle for realpolitik, this is it.
The average Israeli citizen knows that such a release of terrorists would be both morally repugnant and, pragmatically speaking, an oxymoron. Terror and peace don’t go together; terror does not lead to peace. Israel learned that very painfully in what was known as the Oslo process. Apart from the specific dangers entailed, Abbas, in making such a demand, is signaling something other than a genuine interest in peace.
U.S.-Israeli relations won’t collapse if, on this one, Netanyahu stands firm against Kerry. With Syria seething, Iraq exploding, Jordan and Lebanon endangered, Israel’s indispensability as an island of stability and military and intelligence capabilities is too great for that. If a left-leaning U.S. administration and left-leaning elements in Israel are incapable of dissociating terror and peace, Netanyahu’s task as leader of the Israeli people is to insist on keeping them separate.
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