You would almost think it an April Fool's joke. The U.S. is going to release Jonathan Pollard to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu political cover for proliferate, undeserved, and inexplicable Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. Reportedly, these concessions would include the release of hundreds more Palestinian prisoners, and some sort of building freeze in Judea and Samaria.
The Palestinians are then going to agree to hold back on attacking Israel too harshly in international forums and continue the indirect negotiations with Israel through Secretary of State John Kerry.
In judging such a deal -- if in fact this is what is currently on the table -- one has to consider the overall, strategic objective. In this case, that objective is to keep the negotiations alive.
I don't dismiss the supreme importance of continuing the negotiations. The diplomatic process keeps conflict at arm's length, maintains some stability in the territories, helps maintain Israel's global diplomatic position, allows Israel's economy to continue to grow, and holds out the promise, however so small, of reasonable political agreements with the Palestinian Authority.
I'm even willing to believe that Kerry has achieved more understandings between Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas than the public is aware of, and that Kerry has been a good friend and counsel to Israel in this process.
So the process itself is a worthy cause. But the deal under discussion is nonsensical, for a number of reasons.
The idea of trading Pollard for murderers is morally wrong. Justice demands that Pollard be released without regard to what Israel decides to do on the release of Arab prisoners or how Israel decides to keep or dispose of the West Bank. The case for Pollard's release is based on both substantive legal and humanitarian considerations, period. Linking it to the negotiations is sinful.
Second, Pollard's release is not the grand bonanza for Netanyahu that Kerry perhaps thinks it is. With all due sympathy for Pollard, large segments of the Israeli public will turn their noses up at this stinky deal, and say: Fooya! It is better that Pollard not be released in this way. Thus, such a release will not purchase true political cover for Netanyahu in terms of bending before the Palestinians.
Most of all, the deal is mistaken for the following reason: If Prime Minister Netanyahu is to keep making concessions to Abbas then he should expect something of substance in return from the Palestinians that would bring us closer to peace. Doing so only for the sake of Pollard makes no diplomatic sense.
It is time for Abbas to show some concrete compromises for peace; to "sacrifice for peace"; to show that he too cares about and desires these negotiations. In the absence of such, Israel's repeated and grandiose concessions to the Palestinians only indicate Israeli weakness in the face of continued Palestinian rigidity.
Just last week, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror reminded us of the very significant changes that have transpired in Israel's negotiating stance since the beginning of the Oslo process, versus the total consistency and obduracy of Palestinian negotiating positions during that time. The man who was until recently Netanyahu's national security advisor told a conference at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (which he has now joined) that Israel has made giant strides toward the Palestinians, while the Palestinians have not moved one millimeter toward Israel.
Amidror compared Prime Minister Rabin's positions to those of Netanyahu's today in order to the demonstrate the degree to which Israel has moved toward the Palestinians.
Rabin rejected full Palestinian statehood (he talked about an "entity that was less than a state"); Netanyahu has embraced the two-state construct.
Rabin pledged that Israel would retain control over the Jordan Valley "in the broadest meaning of that term"; Netanyahu speaks only of Israeli forces on the border.
Rabin explicitly rejected a building freeze in the territories; Netanyahu has implemented one.
Rabin pledged never to release Palestinian prisoners convicted of murder; Netanyahu has released three groups of killers, not in exchange for an agreement, but rather as a "confidence-building measure" intended merely to bring Palestinian representatives to the negotiating table.
Rabin pledged never to pay compensation to the children and grandchildren of Palestinian refugees; today, it is clear that Israel will pay compensation.
Rabin never spoke of 'compensating' Palestinians with pre-1967 Israeli land for settlement blocs over the Green Line that Israel intends to keep. Now, for some reason, it is expected (accepted?) that Israel will recompense the Palestinian state for settlement bloc land, perhaps even at a 1:1 ratio.
And so forth and so on.
And what about the Palestinians? Well, Palestinian goals and demands have remained consistent throughout the Oslo period, says Amidror. Abbas, and Yasser Arafat before him, never wavered on their clear demand for eastern Jerusalem to serve as the capital of the Palestinian state. They have remained focused on their demand that no Jews be allowed to live in the nascent Palestinian state. Their stance on Palestinian refugees -- that the children and grandchildren of Palestinian refugees must be given the right to emigrate to Israel -- has never wavered.
And so forth and so on.
So if John Kerry wants to negotiate a package of mutual concessions between Netanyahu and Abbas in order to allow a continuation of negotiations with a real chance of success -- fine. Go for it. Show us that Abbas is prepared to concede and compromise a bit. Show us sustainable and measurable Palestinian moderation. Don't try to bribe Israel into another awkward, lopsided, unfair and unfavorable negotiating framework by proffering poor Mr. Pollard.