Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Would Americans Release Terrorist Killers?

by Jonathan S. Tobin

[Editor's note: I heartily agree with the main thrust of this article. There is, however, one important point with which I take issue, and that is the statement, "there is a sense that an all-out push for more negotiations will do no harm and is an intrinsic good no matter what must be done to get them going." Past experience has taught us the bitter lesson that these efforts often end in tragedy for both sides. Witness the result of the Camp David Summit of July 2000, which failed only because Arafat would not accept the extremely generous terms he was offered. The Second Intifada was the immediate result of this failed summit. For more on the subject, see Advice to Western Leaders - Don't Come to Visit the Middle East].

Most Americans aren’t paying that much attention to Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort to re-start Middle East peace talks. To the extent that they are, they understand there’s almost no chance the effort will succeed and that the country would be far better off if Kerry were devoting his efforts to more urgent and dangerous issues such as Egypt, Syria, or the nuclear threat from Iran. But even given that, there is a sense that an all-out push for more negotiations will do no harm and is an intrinsic good no matter what must be done to get them going. But there is one condition to achieve this goal that has been pushed by the secretary that should prick the conscience of the American people: the U.S. demand that Israel release more than one hundred Palestinian terrorists, including many with blood on their hands.

In an effort to avoid getting blamed for spoiling Kerry’s party, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has agreed to this painful concession. Despite the furious opposition of many in his Cabinet and government as well as the families of the victims of terrorist attacks, he has reluctantly mustered a majority for the measure. As I wrote last week, unlike the mass release of prisoners in order to ransom prisoners like kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, which is defensible, it is hard to justify Netanyahu’s decision from an Israeli point of view. But it should be remembered that as much as Israel could have said no to Kerry, this is an outrageous Palestinian demand that was championed by the United States. That means Americans should pause and wonder whether they would ever give a moment’s consideration to doing what their government is twisting Israel’s arm to do. Would we ever think of releasing any of those convicted and currently serving long jail sentences for involvement in the 9/11 attacks or any other terrorist assault on the United States and its citizens? Not a chance.

That’s a point that is never raised in the news accounts of Kerry’s negotiations or even posed to the secretary when he deigns to be questioned by a diplomatic press corps that has given him kid-glove treatment. Yet why not?

The fact is the United States would never consider such a request for a minute, no matter the diplomatic gains to be garnered from that sort of concession elsewhere in the globe. The American position is, as the Obama administration likes to put it, that anyone who attacks U.S. citizens will be chased down to the ends of the earth and either be snuffed by a drone attack that has the personal approval of the commander in chief or be locked away for good if they are captured.

Imagine the response from the 9/11 families or the survivors of any terror attack to the suggestion that the killers of their relatives be released. Would it be much different than those of Israelis as reported by the New York Times?
On Friday, Yediot Aharonot, an Israeli newspaper, published an impassioned open letter to Mr. Netanyahu from Abie Moses, whose pregnant wife and 5-year-old son, Tal, were fatally burned in a firebomb attack on their car in April 1987. Mr. Moses said that faced with the likely release of their killer, Mohammad Adel Hassin Daoud, “the wounds have reopened; the memories, which we live with on a daily basis, turn into physical pain, in addition to the emotional pain of coping daily with the nightmare.”
Yet Kerry ignores this pain even as he gleefully pushes Netanyahu to make his photo-op possible. Perhaps a true peace that ended the conflict with the Palestinians and the Muslim and Arab world might be worth such a sacrifice. But given the reluctance of the Palestinians to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and the split between the supposed moderates of Fatah that will negotiate and the Hamas rulers of Gaza that will not, the chance of that happening is virtually zero. 

But even if you think Kerry’s effort is merely a Hail Mary pass that can’t make things any worse, it’s also fair to ask Americans how they can justify demanding that Israel do something they would never do themselves. The blood of the Israeli victims of terror is just as red as that of Americans. Their need for some measure of justice for the killers is no more and no less than that of Americans.

This sort of hypocrisy is inexcusable. Netanyahu has done this because Israel remains a besieged country and dependent on American support and it is understood that it is sometimes compelled to do things that are obviously against its own interests in order to avoid a fight with its superpower ally. But instead of applauding Kerry’s success in forcing Netanyahu to take this step, Americans should be ashamed. 
Jonathan S. Tobin


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