by Elliott Abrams
Working toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, negotiators always seek "confidence-building measures," which are supposed to show good faith and convince the other side to undertake equal steps, or perhaps even more important to show the other side's good faith.
Today the negotiations led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry use prisoner releases as one such measure, designed mostly to keep PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas at the conference table. But the prisoner releases are not confidence-building measures, they are confidence-destroying measures. With some American pressure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has released a third tranche of long-serving security prisoners -- murderers, to be exact.
The first thing this does is diminish confidence in the United States. After all, Americans never do this, never release murderers or terrorists from U.S. prisons for political reasons. Expecting Israel to do so teaches Israelis that the U.S. will ask Israel to take risks it would not take, and that it does not fully understand the security situation they face.
And the releases certainly diminish confidence in the Palestinians as peace partners. The London Daily Telegraph explains why:
"Twenty-six inmates incarcerated since before the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords were given a hero's welcome in the West Bank city of Ramallah after being freed from Israeli custody early on Tuesday. They were the third of four batches of prisoners Israel agreed to release last July, as part of the price for re-starting long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians. But scenes of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, kissing and hugging each prisoner after their release provoked revulsion in Israel, with critics complaining that most of the inmates had been convicted of murdering Israelis. 'Each one of us sees this and we ask ourselves, can we make peace with these people, who welcome murderers with flowers as if they were heroes,' Silvan Shalom, the Israeli regional development minister, told Israel Radio. 'If these are their heroes, if this is what they show the young generation, that these loathsome murderers are heroes, can we make peace with them? What kind of education is this for children?'"
Who is being released? Here are some, from the Jerusalem Post:
"Damouni Saad Mohammed Ahmed will be released to the Gaza Strip this week, more than 20 years after he was convicted of taking part in the brutal lynching of IDF reservist Amnon Pomerantz, who took a wrong turn into a refugee camp in the coastal territory in 1990 -- he was beaten to death before his car was set alight by firebombs.
"Shakir Alifu Musbach Nufal will be released to his home in the West Bank this week, some 27 years after he was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the kidnapping and murder of then-21-year-old IDF soldier Shaltiel Akiva on Passover night in 1985.
"Two Fatah terrorists, Samarin Mustafa Kalib Asrar and Kra'an Azat Musa Musa, were convicted in the 1992 abduction and murder of Israeli soldier Tzvi Klein in the West Bank in 1992.
"Yosef Mahmad Haza Haza was only 17 when he and a friend murdered hikers Leah Elmakayis and Yossi Eliyahu at a forest on the Gilboa mountain range in 1985. Abed al Raba Nimr Jabril Issa is also set to be released following his conviction for the murder of hikers Revital Seri and Ron Levy in 1984.
"Fatah member Abu-Dahila Hasan Atik Sharif will be released to the West Bank 21 years after his arrest for the murder of Avi Osher, who employed him for 15 years at his Jordan Valley farm before Sharif beat and stabbed him to death.
"The list includes Amer Massoud Issa Rajib, one of those convicted in the murder of Ian Feinberg, who was hacked and shot to death in April 1993 in the Gaza Strip, where he had been working on economic revitalization plans for the area."
One can perhaps forgive a murderer's family for greeting him with kisses; one cannot forgive the highest authorities of the PA and PLO for doing so, and Silvan Shalom is right in asking what lesson this teaches all Palestinians. Palestinian leaders refuse to make any moral distinctions, not separating those who committed crimes of violence from those who did not, nor even -- the very least that might be expected -- separating those who killed soldiers from those who killed civilians.
The official Palestinian glorification of those who murdered Israelis is now the backdrop to Kerry's arrival in Israel today to advance "peace."
From "Pressure Points" by Elliott Abrams. Reprinted with permission from the Council on Foreign Relations.
Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.