The Post reports: “The first substantive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in years will begin Monday evening in Washington, the Obama administration announced, after Israeli leaders agreed Sunday to release 104 Palestinian prisoners.” The cabinet vote was narrow, 13-7. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in announcing the release called it “painful.” Actually, it is foolish.
A former U.S. official bluntly told me this morning: “I don’t like it. First, it reinforces the view in Palestinian society that these terrorists are heroes — for killing civilians, Including children. Second, it puts the U.S. in the position of endorsing that position. Third, we have a policy of killing or jailing terrorists — and keeping them jailed.” He adds, “Where do we get the moral authority to demand that another country release terrorists?”
In Israel, the decision is highly controversial. An American living in Jerusalem e-mails that “the right is fuming and protesting outside the prime minister’s residence, with heartbroken parents and wives and children — victims of the to-be-released [terrorists].”
The Labor Party is cheering, albeit in muted fashion. A Labor Party Knesset member opines, “On its merits, the cabinet’s decision to release Palestinian prisoners with blood on their hands is a bad one.” But what the heck, he concludes: “Although on the face of it the prisoner release compromises Israel’s security, the decision helps Israel’s standing on the world stage and makes it more secure.” With logic like that it is not hard to understand why the party is out of power.
Unlike the prisoner release that sprung Gilad Shalit, Israel gets nothing from this move. No one knowledgeable about the Middle East, including the Israeli government, thinks the “peace process” talks are going anywhere. Ire is focusing on the Obama administration. Did it arm-twist Netanyahu with some sort of ultimatum? It seems unlikely that Netanyahu could have extracted anything concrete from the administration on the issue he worries most about, Iran.
The other possibility is that this is an exchange for the Palestinians not returning to the United Nations to seek recognition and for admonition to various U.N.-related entities. If so, this is merely rewarding the Palestinians’ bad behavior (that violates their existing obligations) and relieving them and the United Nations of the consequences of their decisions (e.g. cutting off U.S. aid for entities that let the Palestinian Authority in).
In any event, the Israelis are trading something tangible — its credibility on terrorism and the safety of its citizens — for something negligible. When the talks go nowhere, as they inevitably will, what then? Some Palestinian murderers will be back on the street, the Palestinians will have given up nothing, and the disappointment from raised expectations will carry the risk of another intifada. On this one, the United States should never have asked and the Israelis were shortsighted, at the very least, in agreeing to go along.