Releasing Palestinian prisoners: A crazy-stupid-brave thing to do
It demonstrates the strength of influence of the settler movement within the present government that, politically, it was easier for Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to the release of 104 Palestinian thugs, murderers, and terrorists than publicly acquiescence to a settlement freeze. It also says a good deal about Palestinian politics that it is important at all to Abbas, his cronies, and the Palestinian people to have those who have murdered Holocaust survivors, lynched IDF soldiers, and planted explosives at highway intersections back on their soil.
This just about sums it up:
As @CarnetsdAliyah points out, the prisoner release was politically the easiest of the preconditions to fulfill but the most illogical— Elias (@Fdesion) July 28, 2013
As it happens, I think the release of these prisoners was a crazy-stupid-brave thing for Netanyahu to do. Crazy, because of the possibility of recidivism from this most violent of criminals. Stupid, because a settlement freeze announced publicly and enforced in full (at least outside the blocs) would have won greater acclaim. And brave, because Netanyahu is showing some commitment to the peace process with an action that will undoubtedly prove unpopular within his party and the nation at-large.
For why it will be unpopular, just read this list of the pre-Oslo prisoners up for release and their offences:
President Obama goes to Israel
President Obama will land in at Ben Gurion International Airport at around noon on Wednesday, March 20, where he will be greeted by President Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu prior to an official welcome at the president’s residence. Hereafter, he will go to Yad Vashem in order to lay a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance.
Thereafter, Obama will visit Mount Herzl, where he will lay wreathes on the tombs of Theodor Herzl and Yitzhak Rabin.
In the afternoon, Obama will conduct meetings with Netanyahu and various delegations in order to discuss the security situation in the region as well as the peace process. After a press conference, Obama and Netanyahu will take supper together, along with their staffs.
Leon Wieseltier and the Case for Hope
UPDATE: An edited version of this piece now appears in The Times of Israel, entitled "Leon Wieseltier and the case for hope".
Last week, I was invited by a dear friend to speak at my former sixth-form college (a school for the eleventh and twelfth grades, in American parlance) on the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In so doing, I described the land as being twice-promised, where two peoples have two strong claims to the same stretch of terrain. I also covered the hinge events which have led Israeli and Palestinians towards the awful status quo: the Arab-Israeli War; the Six Day War; the failure of Camp David in 2000; the al-Aqsa Intifada; and the unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza.
There was no intention on my part to paint a grim picture of the current state of play. It is just that when the incidences of the past one hundred years are strung together – up to and including Benjamin Netanyahu’s petulant approval of the E1 project east of Jerusalem which would render a Palestinian state unviable – it can appear as if the arc of history, far from bending towards justice, has brought Israelis and Palestinians to a place where peace seems altogether unlikely.
It is this downbeat interpretation of the past and our present that has, it would seem, brought The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier to an abandonment of hope, to a sad conclusion that it is implausible for “peace between Israelis and Palestinians [to] occur in my lifetime. I have not changed my views,” he adds, “I have merely lost my hopes”.
With Trepidation, In Support of Palestine’s UN Bid
Later today, the Palestinian proposal to have their status within the United Nations be upgraded from observer to non-member observer state will be put up for a vote. It will pass. Her Majesty’s government, my government, has made clear that will not vote in the negative on this, but that it cannot vote for it without assurances from the Palestinian Authority that it will re-enter into direct negotiations with Israel absent of pre-conditions. In the words of the Foreign Secretary, William Hague:
This would be consistent with our strong support for the principle of Palestinian statehood but our concern that the resolution could set the peace process back.
Hague’s caution is admirable. It is borne not just of the necessities of statecraft — the need to balance interests in a tinderbox region — but of a knowledge that one will always have regrets, irrelevant of whether one ended up definitively supporting or opposing Palestinian non-member observer state status.
There is, for example, always the possibility (as Hague highlighted) that were Palestine granted enhanced membership, and following the Knesset elections in January nothing happened with regards to bilateral negotiations in six months or a year, then Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad could use the organs of international law enforcement such as the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israel for war crimes. Far from helping bring the two-state solution into being, this would halt Palestinian statehood for a generation, if not kill it altogether.
Yet, on balance, I have come to the conclusion that I would rather regret having invited the Palestinians into the tent than having left them outside it.
The Road They Didn’t Take
Thoughts of mortality, of committing thousands of young men and reservists to war, ought to trouble and concentrate the mind. Worrisome, then, are the loose lips of Israel’s top brass like Eli Yishai, who stated Saturday, “The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages”. Disconcerting too are the attitudes of Michael Ben-Ari, who stated he wants to see 2,000 killed in Gaza, and Gilad Sharon, son of Ariel, who wrote in The Jerusalem Post the following:
We need to flatten entire neighbourhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing.
Their detached attitude to combat, the blasé stance on the sanctity of life, the ease with which they would commit their nation to a war of destruction and desolation, is wicked, callous, and truly frightening. It can’t help but bring to mind, during this month in which we mark the conclusion of the First World War, Wilfred Owen’s take on the Binding of Isaac, “The Parable Of The Old Man And The Young”. After the angel of the Lord appears before Abraham and commands him to offer up “the Ram of Pride” over his threatened son, Owen’s verse takes a grim turn:
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
Four years ago, Israel was on the verge of a ground war with Hamas and other militant organisations based in the Gaza Strip after a significant uptick in rocket attacks upon civilians living in the Negev. In the elections that followed Operation Cast Lead – which halted the showers of explosives, at a cost of thirteen dead Israelis and 700 dead Palestinian non-combatants – Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud gained fifteen more seats and formed a government of parties opposed to peace, or to use the father Benzion’s adage, in favour of an accord that they must know the Palestinians would never accept.
To say that history is repeating itself, or is in danger of doing so, would be facetious and a little cheap. Yet the familiarity of the position Israel finds herself in – at war with Hamas once more, no closer to an agreement with the PLO, and weeks away from a general election – should certainly sharpen the focus of the Israeli voter and give them just cause to reflect on the Netanyahu administration’s failings.
From Bethlehem: Israeli Occupation; Palestinian Failure
BETHLEHEM, Palestinian Territories – If you happen to have been in Bethlehem, and have walked down Manger Street in order to get to the Church of the Nativity, no doubt you may have stopped in order to gaze upon the view from this city on a peak. The vista, however, is not of the beautifully arid Judean Hills, specked with the green of hundreds of pine trees, but rather the large Israeli settlement of Har Homa, southeast of Jerusalem, constructed after the Six Day War.
The amount of concrete that has been poured, and continues to be poured, into the scarred earth of the West Bank makes the formulation of a two-state solution less achievable with each passing day. From Bethlehem to Ramallah, the Israeli government continues to sanction the construction of new homes, apartment blocks, and shopping centres in and amongst the hills which ring Jerusalem.
Whether with intent or in the absence of it, the patterns of housing development in the area around the Israeli capital has made the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state more difficult (if not impossible), depending upon which settlements will remain and which will be returned to nature.