Shame, and grief and fury. Just a part of what I am feeling right now in response to the decision of the Cabinet late today to release 104 Palestinian Arab prisoners as a “gesture” to the PA so that they will come to the table.
Yet, my friends, I am hardly alone in this response. Yesterday, I cited the poll indicating that a huge majority (85%) of Israelis was opposed to what their prime minister has just done. There are many feeling shame, and grief and fury.
And I thought it important to send this out tonight and tell everyone that Binyamin Netanyahu and the Cabinet that caved under his pressure do not represent all of us. Not by a long shot. Nor is it our intention to remain silent.
Not that the opinions, or the feelings of those who are opposed mattered in the end to Netanyahu, who prattled on about the pain in his own heart and how difficult it was for him to do this.
Don’t believe him. If it bothered him that much he shouldn’t have done it.
I frankly resent it when he invokes the name of his brother Yoni — who died a hero at Entebbe — to show that he understands the pain of those who lost a family member to terrorists. It is not the same thing.
The reason he gave for taking this action was “in order to establish Israel’s position in the complex international reality around us.” Shall I translate this for you? It means to suck up to the world in the futile hope that they’ll like us. To make sure Kerry isn’t left hanging out to dry, because Abbas won’t cooperate. To come forward and take up that problematic slack for Kerry so “negotiations” might carry on.
Yes, I know the US pressure has been enormous. And the onus is put on us because Abbas won’t move. But in my opinion, Netanyahu has the spine of a wet noodle. Therein lies our dilemma. Our tragedy.
I do not believe that he believes for a moment in the prospects of “peace.” Even now, he is not Shimon Peres or Tzipi Livni, with his head floating in some netherworld. His actions are not ideological, but purely tactical and pragmatic. As he sees tactics and pragmatism, at any rate.
And I saw it coming, although I didn’t quite expect this. I noted on several occasion how he keeps going on “ad nauseum” about his devotion to the “peace negotiations.” This was not a man working from inner conviction, quietly and with determination. This was a man putting on a show.
Steve Plaut, Haifa professor, has written a piece about this issue on his blog — http://stevenplaut.blogspot.co.il/— that is so stunning I want to reproduce a part of it here (emphasis added):
“Ofrah Moses was pregnant when she was murdered along with her son and her fetus. The murderer was Mohammed A’del Daud, who threw a petrol bomb at their car in 1987. He is about to be set free by Benjamin Netanyahu in order to prove to the world the Jews are Untermenschen [subhuman] whose lives are worthless and whose murder does not count. The Israeli Left is cheering Netanyahu on! The road to peace depends on Jews acquiescing in being defined and treated as sub-humans, whose lives have no worth.
“Rachel Weiss was burned to death together with her three small children in 1988 when the bus she was riding in was attacked by petrol bombs. The murderer was Mahmoud Abu-Charbeesh. He is about to be set free by Benjamin Netanyahu in order to prove to the world the Jews are Untermenschen whose lives are worthless and whose murder does not count.
“In 1985 Meir ben Yair and Michal Cohen were sitting in their car in a forest near Beit Shemesh when they were murdered by Mustafa Ganimat, together with his two terrorist friends. He is about to be set free by Benjamin Netanyahu in order to prove to the world the Jews are Untermenschen whose lives are worthless and whose murder does not count.
“Leah Almakeis and Yosef Eliyahu were murdered while hiking in a forest on Mt. Gilboa. Their murderer was Othman bni Chasin. He is about to be set free by Benjamin Netanyahu in order to prove to the world the Jews are Untermenschen whose lives are worthless and whose murder does not count.
Isa Abd Rabo murdered Ravital Sri and Ron Levi near the Chrimison monastery, stabbing them to death. He is about to be set free by Benjamin Netanyahu in order to prove to the world the Jews are Untermenschen whose lives are worthless and whose murder does not count.
“One of Israel’s leading historians, Professor Menachem Stern, was murdered in 1989, stabbed to death by Mahmoud Isa Muammar in the Valley of the Cross in Jerusalem. The terrorist also murdered three other people. He is about to be set free by Benjamin Netanyahu in order to prove to the world the Jews are Untermenschen whose lives are worthless and whose murder does not count.
“The above are just a few of the murderers of men, women and children that Benjamin Netanyahu is about to set free in order to prove to the world the Jews are Untermenschen whose lives are worthless and whose murder does not count.
“Netanyahu is setting these murderers free as ‘payment’ for the PLO to go through the motions of participating in make-pretend ‘negotiations,’ and as a sop for John Kerry. Netanyahu is ‘paying’ for the Kodak moment in the currency of mass murderers, all so the PLO will sit down with some Israeli representatives and demand that Israel be annihilated by means of the ‘Palestinian Right of Return,’ this after Israel ‘returns’ to its pre-1967 Auschwitz borders and offers the PLO swaths of pre-1967 Israeli lands. Netanyahu will be setting free 104 murderers as the purchase price for this show…
“Israel was created for the simple purpose of proclaiming to the world that the Jews are NOT Untermenschen whose lives are worthless and whose murder does not count…When Netanyahu abandons this, he undermines the purpose and legitimacy of the country. Someone who refuses to accept this axiom as the fundamental basis for the existence of the state is unworthy of holding office in Israel.”
It was broadly understood that once Netanyahu released his letter to the public yesterday — explaining why he “had” to release the prisoners and how this would be good for Israel — he had set the ground for approval of his decision by the Cabinet.
But it turned out not to be so simple when he came before the Cabinet today. So contentious was the discussion that he tabled it for later in the day. And for a short while there was hope that it might not go through.
One of the issues had to do with the fact that some 20 Israeli Arab prisoners were slated for release as part of this deal. It’s all an outrage. But it’s one matter for the PA to insist that “their” prisoners be released (although even this is unacceptable). And it’s quite another for them to interfere in how we mete out justice to our own citizens. Who is Abbas to demand that Israel release an Israeli Arab who killed Israeli Jews? Ponder this a bit, and you may understand that the implications are deep and troublesome.
For some in the Cabinet, this was a red line. And so the prime minister agreed that release of those prisoners would be separated out for a vote another time.
The numbers have yet to add up for me, with regard to this issue. Originally we were supposed to release 83, and then were told it would be 104 because Abbas insisted (insisted??) on including the Israeli Arab prisoners. But somehow, with those Israeli Arabs factored out, we’re still being told that 104 will be released. In stages.
Netanyahu has appointed a committee — consisting of himself, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, and Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, a former Shin Bet head — who would make the decisions as to who would be released, when, and where they’d be sent to.
Enormous pressure was put on the ministers in turn, so that the prime minister could get his way. And so our second tragedy is that more did not hold out. Most disturbing is that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, whom I just praised yesterday, voted for the prisoner release.
The final vote of the Cabinet was 13 in favor: Netanyahu, Ya’alon, Gideon Sa’ar, and Yuval Steinitz (Likud); Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beitenu); Yair Lapid, Yael German, Yaakov Peri, and Shai Piron (Yesh Atid); Tzipi Livni, and Amir Peretz (Hatnua).
Opposed were: Yisrael Katz and Gilad Erdan (Likud), Naftali Bennett, Uri Ariel and Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi) and Uzi Landau and Yair Shamir (Yisrael Beitenu) voted against the measure.
The Limor Livnat and Silvan Shalom (Likud) abstained.
Aside from those who fought within the Cabinet are those serving in the Knesset or as deputy ministers and fighting from outside the Cabinet — most notably Danny Dannon, Deputy Defense Minister, but others, such as Ze’ev Elkin, Deputy Foreign Minister. I will have more to say about them over time.
Bennett may yet walk from the coalition with his party, and it remains to be seen how nationalists within the right wing of Likud decide to conduct themselves. How this dynamic plays out will be critical.
Those fighting the good fight will require moral and political support. Others, prepared to cave, will have to be held accountable.
What Netanyahu has done, of course, is to render himself, before the nation, as someone who cannot be trusted on any of this. After all, he insisted that he would accept no pre-conditions and that we were going into the negotiations without having agreed to anything. And so, what remains troublesome is the question of what else he agreed to.
PA sources — both Al-Ayyam and Al-Hayat according to Israel National News — are saying that the official invitation to come from the US will “include a statement that the talks will be based on the ‘1967 lines’ with possible territorial swaps.”
PA sources are not gospel, and we’ll know soon enough how much truth there is here.
The referendum law was also approved in the Cabinet today and will go to the Knesset. I would like to table that discussion for my next post.
Here, just briefly, I wanted to explain why Abbas considers it so important to secure the release of convicted terrorists from Israeli prisons.
This man is politically weak, and the issue of prisoner release is a hot one. Every family who has someone in an Israeli prison wants him out. These terrorists are heroes, and many in the broader community call for their release as well. It becomes a matter of pride for them. (And you might want to ponder what sort of people are these, who base their honor on this and not constructive achievements.) What Abbas can “achieve” in this regard secures him a popularity and increased support that simply would not be the case for other more speculative issues.
I wonder how many Palestinian Arabs would bat an eye at an announcement about the terms for negotiations that Abbas secured from Israel. Many don’t think there should be negotiations at all, most expect them to come to nothing. Of what import are the terms of the talks for them? Ah, but to get people out of prison! That is something concrete, an achievement.
Consider this: if there is a building freeze secured (and I do believe that Netanyahu has committed to a slow down in building), and then negotiations fall apart, Israel can start building again. If there is an Israeli agreement to base negotiations on the ’67 line, and the negotiations fail, then Israel will not be behind that line after all. But if some prisoners are released (and the first ones might be released in a matter of weeks), and then negotiations fail, hey! they’re out anyway.