Haaretz - Peace Now's Yariv Oppenheimer: Bennett and Katz Playing Into The Hands of Hamas


In October 2011 the Israeli government, with a huge majority including most of the Likud's ministers, voted in favor of releasing more than 1027 Palestinian prisoners, 280 of them having been convicted for murder and assisting in the murder of Israeli citizens, in return for the release of the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. The released prisoners were received as kings, and the Hamas movement used the opportunity to the utmost in order to show how violent resistance is the best way to make Israel bow down.

Hamas, who kidnapped an Israeli soldier, gravely violated international agreements by keeping him in absolute isolation from the world - also succeeded in causing undoubtedly right-wing ministers like Gilad Ardan, Limor Livnat and Israel Katz to support the agreement. These same ministers, who supported the deal, now voted against the decision to release prisoners as part of the start of the negotiation process...

The same ministers that supported the deal voted against the decision to release prisoners as part of the opening of the negotiation process between Israel and the Palestinians. Some of them explain this by arguing that there is no real benefit in return for releasing these prisoners and that the start of negotiation and the strengthening of Abu Mazen, isn't reason enough. These ministers admit that Israel actually only understands force, and that the abduction and release of soldiers justifies the release of Palestinian prisoners from jail. The message they convey to the Palestinians public is clear: don't hold peace negotiations, because the fastest way of releasing prisoners is by kidnapping Israeli soldiers and citizens, and subsequently negotiating their release. This feeling of being "freier" (a sucker), coming from the fact that the release of Palestinian prisoners isn't accompanied by the release of Israeli captives, only emphasizes the absurdity of the situation. Israel gives in to Hamas, but stands rigidly strong against Abu Mazen and his friends, who abandoned the path of violence. The right wingers in the government admit; we only understand force.

The release of Palestinian prisoners is a hard and hurtful process, especially for the families that have lost their loved ones and will have to witness how in the near future the people responsible for their murder will be set free. A minor consolation might be the fact that the Palestinian prisoners are being released from prison after decades and after they've served a large part of their sentence. However, the release of prisoners is an integral part of the effort to strengthen the moderates on the Palestinian side and to show the Palestinian public that also Abu Mazen has the power to negotiate with Israel and to back with accomplishments. After the right wing ministers have thwarted any chance of a declaration of a freeze on settlement construction, Abu Mazen will have to settle with the release of prisoners that have been, for decades, serving their sentences in Israeli jails, and that were active even before Israel and the Palestinians started their mutual recognition process within the framework of the Oslo agreements.

The issue of the prisoners is a sensitive and painful topic for the Palestinian public, who saw how the Hamas succeeded in forcefully making Israel bow down, and now anxiously watches if the way of communication and conciliation that Abu Mazen is conducting will bear similar fruition. Israel's willingness to comply with some of the demands could, for a change, help in engraining some positive awareness. The sustaining of the political process with the Israeli side, can bring far reaching results for both sides. The release of prisoners, especially those with blood on their hands, is a painful compromise that Israel will have to make, but it is preferable to do this for a diplomatic negotiation process and in order to pave a way to negotiating peace, rather than to do this for the release of an Israeli soldier or citizen who is being kept hostage.

This article first appeared in Haaretz on July 28, 2013 (Hebrew only).