Wednesday April 23, 2014
Israel Hayom
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Dan Margalit

This round has already been decided


Only an unusual event, which we hope will never occur, would see Israel break its promise to release Palestinian prisoners jailed for terrorism and national security crimes -- the third group of whom is set to be freed next week. The release comprises part of the price Israel agreed to pay the Palestinians to re-enter the peace process.

Although Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon claimed senior Israeli officials would deliberate and reconsider freeing the prisoners, everyone knows the current level of Palestinian terrorism -- despite its escalating pace -- cannot provide just grounds for postponing the release. Israel would simply be accused of failing to honor its pledge.

Israel has a reputation of seeing agreements through, whether by repaying loans on time or honoring various political or legal pledges to other countries. Israel has an interest in maintaining this good reputation.

There are probably some extreme Palestinians in the Gaza Strip (as well as some Palestinians in Judea and Samaria) who would like to force Israel's hand to the point it feels compelled to reconsider the release. Those Palestinians are largely motivated by schadenfreude and hope to underscore Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' failure; their wish to undermine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes a back seat.

Needless to say, they would like a massive terrorist attack to take place in Israel, particularly if it would serve to sabotage the peace process. But it is unlikely the talks will be suspended in any meaningful way. Foremost among the many reasons for this is the short-term satisfaction Israelis may feel after the announcement of a short cessation of talks will be followed by a far greater let down.

The release of murderers has been Israel's Achilles' heel throughout the conflict with the Palestinians, mainly due to public sentiment. People demand the government act in a two-pronged, diametrically opposed way when it comes to the Palestinian prisoners.

About 10 years ago, when reports surfaced that Hezbollah had forcefully extracted Israeli captive Elhanan Tannenbaum's teeth, public opinion was turned on its head. Israelis, it seemed, were suddenly willing to sign off on a wholesale amnesty for all Palestinian murderers so long as their "precious son" was returned. This was reinforced by the public debate over the release of Gilad Schalit, who had a special place in Israel's collective heart and soul. At the time, it seemed the government's stability could be seriously compromised if it ignored the public's demand to release prisoners "with blood on their hands."

The public needs to think hard before judging the government's conduct next week. Would it continue to oppose the release of prisoners if a new Gilad Schalit -- someone as loved, considered one of our own -- was to be kidnapped by the Palestinians? Any response, negative or positive, would be understood.

But why stand tall in your opposition to the release only to do an about-face if someone was, God forbid, taken hostage by the enemy? You wouldn't expect this reaction from a responsible public. This current round has already been decided. When the fourth group is released down the road, Israel will have fulfilled its promise. The conduct of the government should be deliberated in advance, before the emergency of any new developments, such as a kidnapping or another round of talks.

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