The Farce Has Gone Far Enough

It’s impossible to defend Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s decision to release 104 Palestinian murderers as a gesture to get PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table, when he could have opted for a “settlement” freeze.

Releasing the murderers of, for instance, Rachel Weiss and her three children, Hy”d, is immoral. Not only is the government making a statement about the value it assigns to the lives of those who were killed and its lack of solidarity with the family members who are still coming to terms with their loss, but it is setting the stage for the next killings, R”l.

For years Netanyahu preached to the West about not giving in to terrorists, that sending killers home to Ramallah and Jenin to a hero’s welcome is the best way to encourage young people, who are indoctrinated to hate Jews, to follow in their footsteps. Now he is doing so himself.

Moreover, many of those who have been released in the past year, and in earlier deals, have gone back to terrorism. They use their experience, contacts and “status” as alumni of Israeli prisons to plan attacks and recruit the support and manpower needed to execute them.

The rationale behind agreeing to a gesture towards the Palestinians had nothing to do with the prospects of reaching a final peace agreement. No one believes Abbas is capable of relinquishing Palestinian claims to Yerushalayim or to the “right of return” of their refugees. And even if he were, he doesn’t represent the 1.7 million Arabs in Gaza.

Rather, the gesture was about one thing: Making sure that Israel isn’t blamed by the international community for the talks’ collapse. So what does Netanyahu do? He releases prisoners, but then, to prove that he didn’t agree to a building freeze, announces the construction of hundreds or thousands of homes, drawing scathing international criticism for “sabotaging” the talks.

In other words, Israel makes the painful concession and is still blamed for the talks’ collapse.

The prisoner release is an insult to the memory of Nachshon Wachsman, Hy”d, and to the suffering of the Shalit family, which endured five years of their son’s captivity in Gaza. If Israel can so easily release 104 prisoners for the dubious privilege of sitting at a table with the Palestinians, how can it justify not releasing prisoners to save the life of Wachsman or to gain the freedom of Shalit?

A building freeze, on the other hand, wouldn’t have encouraged terrorism and wouldn’t have caused any irrevocable damage. If the government normally builds, say, 200 apartments a month in Yehudah and Shomron and suspended building for 10 months, it could have doubled the number in the ensuing 10 months, and nothing terrible would have happened to the country.

But Netanyahu wasn’t worried about the country. As usual, he was worried about the health of his coalition. A building freeze would have threatened the support of the Jewish Home party and some in Likud-Beiteinu (especially since Netanyahu expressly promised not to repeat the freeze of 2009–10). And since Netanyahu makes decisions based on political considerations — as was clearly seen in the case of the chareidi draft — he opted for this disastrous prisoner release.

We are a month away from the April 29 deadline set by Secretary of State John Kerry for reaching a final peace agreement. The Palestinians are refusing to compromise on any of the key issues and making it clear that they have no interest in extending the talks. Instead, they will turn to the United Nations — where they enjoy overwhelming support — and seek recognition as a state.

Israel, in the hope of forcing the Palestinians to negotiate seriously, spread out the release of prisoners over four tranches, with the final one scheduled for March 28. But the tactic did not work; the Palestinians simply bided their time at the negotiating table until the prisoner releases were complete. PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat let the cat out of the bag last month when he told Army Radio that Abbas wouldn’t quit the talks “until the fourth prisoner release, which is scheduled for March.”

Meanwhile, in their chutzpah, the Palestinians are now demanding the release of 30 prisoners, including Israeli Arab killers (they want to show that they represent “Palestinian” Arabs in Israel, as well).

The farce has gone far enough. Israel has released 78 killers and it must not release the final 26. Even Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator, who is no right-winger, says there was never an “automatic commitment to release prisoners unrelated to making progress in negotiations.”

Finally, Jonathan Pollard’s name has been raised in the context of these prisoner releases.

On the one hand, there is absolutely no connection between Pollard and the murderers that Israel is being asked to release. On the other, if Israel is being asked to swallow such a bitter pill, it has the right, and obligation, to demand that America release Pollard, thereby giving all of Israel a chance to celebrate his return home.