Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Why Is the United States Asking Israel to Release Terrorists?

by Elliott Abrams
July 29, 2013


The Government of Israel has announced that it will release 104 “security prisoners” in an effort to induce the PLO to return to the negotiating table. This was a PLO demand that was backed by the United States, as part of Secretary Kerry’s efforts to get talks restarted.

Put aside for the moment the oddity that the Palestinians must be bribed in this way to negotiate. One might have thought that they would wish to negotiate–because they wish to end the Israeli occupation and move toward independence.

My question is why the United States asks a friend to do what we would not do–release terrorists. Here is how the Washington Postdescribed those who will be released:

The list of prisoners who may be released in coming days includes militants who threw firebombs, in one case at a bus carrying children; stabbed and shot civilians, including women, elderly Jews and suspected Palestinian collaborators; and ambushed and killed border guards, police officers, security agents and soldiers.

Israel has at times undertaken huge prisoner releases, for example letting a thousand men out to get back the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. But that was their own sovereign decision, taken after long national debate. Here, we are pressing them to release prisoners. We will bear none of the risk that any of them may return to violence, which makes our requests and pressure difficult to justify morally. Nor do we face the terrible problem of explaining to the victims of these crimes, and their relatives and survivors, why they were set free.

Meanwhile, our own policy toward terrorists remains tough and uncompromising. Just this month the President gave a speech defending vigorously his use of drone attacks. So, we escalate our effort to kill terrorists while urging an ally to release terrorists from prison. It would be worth asking the administration how that position can be defended morally.

Post a Comment 8 Comments

  • Posted by James

    Just another day at the office for these dumbbells . Obama should be thrown out of office , he is such a loser .

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    Maybe Israel should send them here for Obama and Kerry to deal with .

  • Posted by Rick Tasker

    You are off on your own anti-Obama political tangent. There is no one who thinks Prime Minister Netanyahu takes direction from President Obama or Secretary of State Kerry. Israel wants and needs peace, and right at this moment they believe that talking is the right thing.

    Negotiations have a chance of success because everyone knows what the general settlement looks like. And both side are motivated to increase their own stability in a dangerous and exploding region.

  • Posted by Olen

    The Euro-centric Team Obama is using holding the Iranian nuclear program over Israel’s head like the Sword of Damocles. Existential blackmail in collusion with New Left and New Right EU nations vigorously supporting so-called moderate Islamists like Erdogan and Morsi to the horror of the secular Western supporting populace.

  • Posted by Eliyahu

    Kerry turned down a suggestion that the US release Jonathan Pollard from prison under what is a “cruel and unusual punishment” forbidden by the Bill of Rights [8th amendment]. yes, Pollard was a spy. But other spies sentenced around the same time as Pollard [mid-1980s] received much lighter sentences. Consider the Walker family, Christopher Boyce and an Egyptian whose name I forget.

    Yet Pollard was not a mass murderer nor a child killer. But Washington seems quite pleased to have Israel release such scum.

  • Posted by Gary Frankford

    All that is going to come of these “peace negotiations” is the prisoner release. Even if a deal of some kind were reached—which could happen given the presence of Tzipi Livni—the agreement will be submitted to a referendum. Since 70%+ of Israelis believe nothing the Palestinians promise, they’ll squelch the deal.

    So what’s this all about? Elliott Abrams asks the right question: Why is Obama doing this to Israel? But he fails even to list his hunches, as to “why?”. Is this political-correctness? Or cluelessness? Either way, one wonders at the omission.

    We all see Israel’s strategic landscape deteriorating. What are they waiting for—the end of the Obama era? And what if Hillary’s next? She’s worse re: the Jewish state than Obama!

    The key to Israel’s future is to find other “friends.” I personally don’t care who they are at this point. Russia, China. Makes no difference. Anything, but this withering, grinding, and doomed dependency on “friends” like the United States! After all, what kind of people elect a man like Barack Obama to lead them? Is this a people one can trust over the laong-haul?

    As for Elliott Abrams, isn’t it time you began offering insights on what this administration may be up to? Why they pressure Israel, and then ask Martin Indyk to “moderate” the talks—what are they thinking? And who is behind it? Surely, someone, somewhere knows something? Or, is Obama running an hermetically-sealed WH?

    But this is what happens when a demagogue takes over a government = suddenly, no one knows anything!

    Last: drones. They are a hi-tech rendering of the Maginot Line. Defensive warfare. Their aim is not to “win,” but to keep the enemy at bay. There will come a day, and not too far in the future, where one of those “enemies” will find around the drones.

    I find it shocking that anyone would think that relying on them to fight Islamic terror is anything but defensive warfare. There’s your key, Mr. Abrams: we are not “tough on terrorists.” We’re just holding the line against them, for now.

  • Posted by Adam

    The whole thing reminds me of US hypocrisy when they condemned Israel for using targeted killings of terrorists (from planes and choppers instead of drones) before 9/11, Iraq and Afghanistan. Funny, I haven’t heard much condemnation of late…

  • Posted by diana

    Somebody in the Obama administration has come up with the following idea to entertain us. 1) Negotiate, negotiate and continue negotiating with the MB. 2) Every time that the USA is in some sort of crisis, it is the State Dept.’s responsibility to distract the nation with, once more, the biggest obstacle to anything: “The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process”.
    If the monstrosity called UNRWA, could be dismantled and the Arab countries cornered into accepting the “Palestinians” as citizens, UNRWA would cease to exist and the so called Peace Process would turn into a some sort of peace. In the midst of all this nonsense nobody mentions the 800000 Jews expelled from the Arab countries.
    Meantime some good news :Saudis are worried about “fracking”……….In the USA, Argentina, etc.

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