I wrote here about Israel’s decisions (1) to release convicted terrorists as part of the renewed “peace process” that John Kerry is pushing but (2) to announce that it will proceed with new construction beyond the “green line” even though Kerry clearly does not want Israel to engage in such building. I suggested that the second decision is an attempt to make the first decision — a major concession — sit better with the hawkish element within the governing coalition and with the Israeli people generally.
Of course, Israel might have tried this the other way around. It could have made the concession of not building and counterbalanced it by rejecting a prisoner release. This approach would have made more sense from a moral standpoint.
But Eugene Kontorovich explains why the government’s approach is more sensible overall:
Aren’t houses less important than justice for the murdered? Of course. However, unlike the release of terrorists, a construction freeze is fundamentally related to the substance of the negotiations themselves. That is, of all the proposed “gestures,” the freeze would not only be problematic in itself, but would have Israel start negotiations on its back foot.
Not allowing Jews to build houses in most of Jerusalem, in settlement blocs like Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim, and elsewhere that would surely remain under Israel sovereignty sends one message: we have absolutely no right to be here. We are trespassers.
It is one thing to say the Palestinians can have a state because of demographic reasons, international pressure, and so forth. It is another thing to say we are trespassers in the Old City of Jerusalem and Hebron, where Jews lived until being expelled by Arab armies and mobs. A settlement freeze in effect agrees to the 1967 lines as the basis for negotiations–which even if it were a good idea, is a lot more than a “gesture of good faith.”
Kontorovich is right. If a concession had to made, the prisoner release, obscene as it is, was the right concession.
But why was a concession necessary? Why, that is, should Israel have to “pay to play” the peace process game? After all, as Kontorovich says, “if the occupation were so terrible (or real) one would think Abbas would be in a hurry to get to the bargaining table without any preliminaries.”
The answer, Kontorovich submits, is that the Israeli left has sold its narrative that Israel needs peace more than the Palestinians need it. Under these circumstances, it is natural that the Palestinians “will charge Israel heavily for the privilege of giving them a state.”
But the Israeli left’s narrative is cockeyed. Israel is thriving without a peace process. Indeed, it is essentially peaceful. The left may be radically dissatisfied or outraged with the status quo, but I doubt that ordinary Israelis are. And I find it very difficult to believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu is.
In all likelihood, Netanyahu doesn’t believe that Israel needs “peace” more than the Palestinians do. What he believes is that when the U.S. insists on a “peace process,” Israel needs to embrace the process more than the Palestinians do.
Thus, Netanyahu is making the obscene concession of a prisoner release not because he believes doing so will promote a peace Israel desperately, but because he believes it will make President Obama and John Kerry happy. But because Netanyahu’s main need is for a peace process, not a peace agreement, we can hope that the obscene concessions Kerry is wringing out of him have their limits.