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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Does Freeing Murderers Bring Peace?

by Elliott Abrams
August 13, 2013


Today Israel will free 26 murderers, a price exacted by the PLO before it would return to peace negotiations. Israel has entered into such deals before, for example freeing over 1,000 prisoners in exchange for the captured corporal Gilad Shalit. But in that case the decision was Israel’s own, and the United States rightly played no role. Weighing whether the maintenance of its policy of bringing every soldier home was worth the price was an Israeli, not an American, responsibility.

But today we have some moral responsibility for the prisoner releases, because we pushed for them as part of the way to get the PLO back to the table. The Jerusalem Post describes the crimes these men have committed, and here are examples:

Salah Ibrahim Ahmed Mugdad, who was arrested in June 1993 for the murder of Israel Tenenbaum, a 72-year-old security guard at the Sirens Hotel in Netanya. The Fatah member struck Tenenbauon on the head with an iron bar and stole a television set from the hotel….Mustafa Othman al-Haj, who was arrested in June 1989 for the murder of 48-year-old Steven Frederick Rosenfeld. Rosenfeld had been hiking in the hills near Ariel and was stabbed with his own knife by a group of shepherds, who hid his body….Atiyeh Salem Musa, who, along with an accomplice, used an ax to murder a Jewish co-worker, 67-year-old Isaac Rotenberg, during Passover 1994. The murder took place while Rotenberg was hunched on his knees fixing a floor at his place of employment in Petah Tikva. He was struck on the back of his neck, dying two days later.

The Wall Street Journal asked today “why anyone should expect that a peace process that begins by setting murderers free is likely to result in peace.” But things will become even more macabre in the coming days, when the axe murderer, the stabber, the iron bar killer and all the rest are romanticized, celebrated, wined, dined, and officially received as great heroes by the PLO. It will be interesting to see what if anything the United States says about all of that. Will Secretary Kerry and his team maintain a polite silence, or utter the usual State Department words like “unfortunate” or perhaps “disappointing,” or will they say they are disgusted and sickened by that display and that it makes peace much harder to achieve? Will they condemn the PLO and PA for it? Don’t count on it.

Post a Comment 11 Comments

  • Posted by David S. Most

    Mr. Abrams knows the answer to his question. Secretary Kerry will either ignore the Palestinians dancing in celebration of the release of “our glorious heroes” or may mutter some inane comment about “unseemly” or ” unfortunate” displays.

    He has invested so much of his own and the State Dept’s. capital into creating these so-called peace talks that he has allowed himself to be blackmailed by Abbas and Company.
    It’s a shame to witness our democratic ally (Israel) being arm-twisted by our own State Secretary.

    Nine months is sufficient to gestate a human but not to gestate a peace with a group theologically directed to genocide!

  • Posted by Elaine Sihera

    It is very easy to catalogue the atrocities of one side in the dispute, as though they have no context, no reason, and no bearing on a continuing demoralising and debilitating situation. Who chronicles the other side and the misuse and abuse of power?

    The only clear fact in this heartbreaking dispute is that perception is the most powerful driver in it. Yet perception is such an unstable factor dictating our reality: the perception of Israelis regarding the Palestinians, of Americans for the Palestinians, of Israel for America’s role in the tragedy, and of the Palestinians for its perceived enemies – round and round in a never ending circle of negative actions, continuous blame, self righteousness, tragedy and pain. Perception drives decisions, decides actions, induces insecurity and fear, feeds smug self righteousness, and denies a listening ear.

    Yet one thing stands out in all those perceptions, the key to the whole issue: if the Palestinians had powerful allies like the Israelis, this conflict would have been settled a very long time ago.

  • Posted by Ken Besig

    The problem is not with the release of prisoners, it is not with the Israeli negotiating position, the problem is that there is no solution or potential settlement that the Palestinians will accept that includes the continued existence of either the Jewish People or the State of Israel. The Palestinians are at war to exterminate the Jewish People and destroy the State of Israel twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. The Palestinians use the negotiations as simply another front in their war to achieve their own version of the Nazi “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem”. The entire Palestinian criminal enterprise is devoted to the genocide of the Jewish People, their schools, their universities, their hospitals, their news services, their social programs, their mosques, their parks, their aid societies, every aspect of the Palestinian Authority works towards one end, the genocide of the Jewish People and the destruction of Israel. This is why these negotiations, like all the others, are doomed to complete and utter failure. And one more point, some people actually suggest that if these negotiations fail, which they inevitably will, that the American government and the European Union will “impose” a settlement on the Israelis and the Palestinians. The simple fact is that while this idea seems to frighten Israelis, it means nothing. The Palestinians will never agree to or comply with an “imposed” solution that leaves the Jewish People with our own Jewish State of Israel, that is a non starter with them, as I have repeatedly emphasized, the Palestinian criminal enterprise, laughingly called the Palestinian Authority, will only acquiesce to an imposed settlement which includes the genocide of the Jewish People and the utter destruction of the Jewish State of Israel.

  • Posted by David Polovin

    Western thinking, exemplified by Sec Kerry, is unable to appreciate that the Arab mind sees concessions by Israel as a sign of weakness and not a gesture of conciliation or goodwill. If the goal remains to eliminate Israel (and it does, regardless of the West’s appeasement mentality) then signalling weakness represents confirmation to the Arabs of progress towards reaching their goal.

  • Posted by Larry Snider

    I know why Netanyahu did it. I hope that the price he paid to enter negotiations bares fruit for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

  • Posted by David W

    Elaine, the Arabs have the entire world as allies. The British, prior to ’48. The Soviet
    union thereafter. Now EU, Russia and China, all seeking oil. What they don’t have is justice, or a plan to build, only plans to destroy and kill.
    Where is the Palestinian Hebrew University?
    hadassah hospital?
    philharmonic orchestra?
    All formed before 47?

  • Posted by Steve

    Israel consists of Israel, Judea, Samaria, Golan, and Jerusalem.
    Palestine consists of Jordan.
    Murderers need to complete their sentences.
    End of negotiations.

  • Posted by Beatrix

    The Palestinians want to win at the peace table the war they lost on the battlefield. They need new leadership, someone so anxious to lead a new, dynamic country that he can let old grievances go.

  • Posted by Gershon Moshe ben Yitzchak

    Barack H. Obama and his feckless secretary of state are both mindless appeasers, with not the slightest sense of history or understanding of this conflict. They forced Israel into this horrible decision to release scores of blood thirsty murderers. Would they free Nidal Hasan and the shoe bomber Richard Reid in order to entice al Qaeda to the negotiations table? (Even though that was a rhetorical question, the answer may well be “yes.”) Obama’s Cairo speech was just part of his continuing effort to de-legitimize Israel (which, he said, was founded as penance for the Holocaust) and stoke international pressure against it. Neither BHO nor Kerry are friends of Israel, and neither knows an iota about the Jewish people’s unbroken 3000 year old right to every square inch of this land. His middle east “policy” (really no policy at all except appeasement of radicals like the Muslim Brotherhood) is in shambles, and he has no influence anywhere in the middle east, from Morocco to Iran…. except for Israel, which foolishly succumbs to his pressure. BHO apparently wants another Nobel Peace Prize, but good luck, he did ZERO to earn the first one and this pathetic effort to coax Palestinians to the table by freeing hundred murderers will fail miserably and blow up in his face.

  • Posted by Richard

    Such moves have never produced peace, only more fruitless negotiations. Instead of freedom,How about the death penalty for these murderers?

  • Posted by Victor

    Here’s the mystery.

    Israel enters peace talks and sets free those who wish to destroy it. On the surface this seems like a great and perhaps reckless sacrifice in the cause of Peace.

    But, at the same time, Israel engages in ever so slight a bit of extra settlement building, which will obviously harm the peace process, if such truly exists (which I doubt).

    So why play doves on one issue and hawks on another, particularly when the issue on which you’re playing doves holds obvious medium term risks for Israel’s security?.

    Answer: Bibi doesn’t want a peace settlement and he knows that the released prisoners and their exuberant comrades will de-stabilise the situation, allowing him to pull out of the talks before too long.

    That’s how it happens in the Middle East. Hardliners on both sides play off each others extremism, whilst making just enough concessions to reassure their overseas allies and patrons.

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