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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Confidence-destroying Measures

by Elliott Abrams
January 1, 2014


Working toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, negotiators always seek “confidence-building measures” or CBMs. These moves are supposed to show good faith and convince the other side to undertake equal steps, or perhaps even more important to show the other side’s good faith.

Today the Kerry negotiations use prisoner releases as such a CBM, designed mostly to keep PLO chairman Abbas at the conference table. But the prisoner releases are not CBMs; they are CDMs, confidence-destroying measures. With some American pressure, Prime Minister Netanyahu has released a third tranche of long-serving security prisoners –murderers, to be exact.

The first thing this does is diminish confidence in the United States. After all, we never do this; we never release murderers or terrorists from our prisons for political reasons. That we expect Israel to do so teaches Israelis that we will ask Israel to take risks we would not take, and do not fully understand the security situation they face.

And the releases certainly diminish confidence in the Palestinians as peace partners. Today’s Daily Telegraph in London explains why:

Twenty-six inmates incarcerated since before the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords were given a hero’s welcome in the West Bank city of Ramallah after being freed from Israeli custody early on Tuesday. They were the third of four batches of prisoners Israel agreed to release last July, as part of the price for re-starting long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians. But scenes of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, kissing and hugging each prisoner after their release provoked revulsion in Israel, with critics complaining that most of the inmates had been convicted of murdering Israelis. “Each one of us sees this and we ask ourselves, can we make peace with these people, who welcome murderers with flowers as if they were heroes,” Silvan Shalom, the Israeli regional development minister, told Israel Radio. “If these are their heroes, if this is what they show the young generation, that these loathsome murderers are heroes, can we make peace with them? What kind of education is this for children?”

Who is being released? Here are some of the stories, from the Jerusalem Post:

Damouni Saad Mohammed Ahmed will be released to the Gaza Strip this week more than 20 years after he was convicted of taking part in the brutal lynching of IDF reservist Amnon Pomerantz, who took a wrong turn into a refugee camp in the coastal territory in 1990 – he was beaten to death before his car was set alight by firebombs.

Shakir Alifu Musbach Nufal will be released to his home in the West Bank this week, some 27 years after he was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the kidnapping and murder of then- 21-year-old IDF soldier Shaltiel Akiva on Passover night in 1985.

Two Fatah terrorists, Samarin Mustafa Kalib Asrar and Kra’an Azat Musa Musa, were convicted in the 1992 abduction and murder of Israeli soldier Tzvi Klein in the West Bank in 1992.

Yosef Mahmad Haza Haza was only 17 when he and a friend murdered hikers Leah Elmakayis and Yossi Eliyahu at a forest on the Gilboa mountain range in 1985. Abed al Raba Nimr Jabril Issa is also set to be released following his conviction for the murder of hikers Revital Seri and Ron Levy in 1984.

Fatah member Abu-Dahila Hasan Atik Sharif will be released to the West Bank 21 years after his arrest for the murder of Avi Osher, who employed him for 15 years at his Jordan Valley farm before Sharif beat and stabbed him to death.

The list includes Amer Massoud Issa Rajib, one of those convicted in the murder of Ian Feinberg, who was hacked and shot to death in April 1993 in the Gaza Strip, where he had been working on economic revitalization plans for the area.

One can perhaps forgive a murderer’s family for greeting him with kisses; one cannot forgive the highest authorities of the PA and PLO for doing so, and Silvan Shalom is right in asking what lesson this teaches all Palestinians. Palestinian leaders refuse to make any moral distinctions, separating those who committed crimes of violence from those who did not nor even –the very least that might be expected– separating those who killed soldiers from those who killed civilians.

The official Palestinian glorification of those who murdered Israelis is now the backdrop to Secretary’s arrival in Israel today to advance “peace.”


Post a Comment 12 Comments

  • Posted by Michael Palmer

    It must be pointed out that the killers of an American, Frederick Rosenfeld, are among those released by Israel through Kerry’s efforts. Seems that the writers on this topic in the US should note this. The State Department knows that Kerry requested release for a US citizen’s murderers and presumably Kerry knows as well. For details, Eli Lake published in The Daily Beast, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/08/16/palestinian-prisoner-freed-by-israel-has-american-blood-on-his-hands.html
    and David Bedein in The Times of Israel

  • Posted by Frank Bright

    The Children of Israel are a queer bunch. The only reason Arab murderers are being released and exchanged (at a ridiculous rate of exchange) is that they are still around. There are tens of thousands of yeshivebochers studying Torah day and night and yet have never come across the commandment ” life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth” and made it public knowledge among the am-haretz. If those Arab murderers had been hanged by the neck until they were dead then, as dead men cannot be released and feted, none of this misery would have been possible. In Mr. Kerry’s own country they take a less namby-pamby bleeding hearts liberal view and carry out the death sentence for far fewer murders per murderer. At least in that they set an example to be emulated. And as far as ardent Muslims are concerned, from Hamas to the Iranians they are past masters at executing people. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

  • Posted by Emile Tubiana

    Dear Mr. Abrams,
    I have been enjoying reading your writes for a long time. Your article above is excellent. In reference to the so-called Palestinian people, in all my research I could not find any epoch when there was a Palestinian State or Palestinian people, except for the time of the British Mandate, when the Jews were also called “Palestinians”. Even Salaheddin, Sultan of Egypt and Syria, did not call the country “Palestina”.
    I do not understand why President Obama is trying so hard to give them a state, while Jews in North Africa and in the Arab countries had been living there for thousands of years and were expelled from all these countries. We must show that it does not make sense to give the advantage of a state to people who clearly do not deserve it, as they are murderers and terrorists and not interested in peaceful coexistence. Why put so much pressure on our ally Israel? Obama is trying to give advantage to the Arabs by indirectly helping the revolutions known as the “Arab Spring” in Tunisia, in Egypt and in Libya. None of them succeeded. Who gave him the right to chase away the leaders of these countries? Are we the masters of the world?
    Your writes are more powerful than mine. I am born French in Tunisia and I have been living in the United States for over 40 years, since 1972. I have always admired Ronald Reagan. I am economist, author and poet (in five languages). You can find my writes at http://www.authorsden.com/visit/author.asp?id=59810. My e-mail address is: emile@tubiana.net.
    I am always trying to explain that there are no Palestinian people. They are Arabs from the surrounding countries, and they came to Israel looking for a job.
    Thank you for your consideration,
    Emile Tubiana

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    I don’t believe that Obama would be above releasing murderers in this country if it would get him what he wanted politically .

  • Posted by Elliott

    Emile, thank you for reminding people that there never was a “Palestinian people” in all history.

  • Posted by ah

    Emile – you are simply mistaken. There were “Arabs” in the Ottoman territory of Palestine well before the creation of Israel, and therefore they could not have come to Israel looking for a job.

    Elliott – you quickly forget that all nationalities are “Imagined Communities” – Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, whatever. So to say there was never a “Palestinian people” in all history is simply ridiculous, and clearly being used to support your subsequent argument that this somehow then gives Israelis the right to Palestinian land.

  • Posted by Sagar Wadgaonkar

    Mr. Abrams,
    I completely agree with you that releasing Palestinian prisoners is not the best means of building confidence but you fail to mention that Israel continues to build settlements in the West Bank. Israelis do not seem to desire peace or a Palestinian state when they continue to take more and more of the land that that claim will be part of an eventual Palestinian state. The US also does not seem to have the backbone to stand up to Israel and demand that they change their behavior. The continuance of this conflict hurts US national security, yet we seem powerless to stand u to Israel even though Israel’s actions are directly anathema to the United States (Israel on the other hand has stated many times that it is willing to throw us under the boat, even though we single handedly supply their army and insure their security) if any of our actions hurt their security. On the other hand we are always willing to apply pressure on the Palestinians and even went firmly against world opinion in not supporting their bid for a state in the UN.

  • Posted by Sagar

    Emilie- You are incorrect on several counts. All nations must develop artificial national identities over time. Israelis were not a people 200 years ago (one could argue that Israelis only really developed a national identity starting around the time of Theodore Herzl and the original European proponents of Zionism in the 1800s). Prior to that Jewish thought was very divided and a large percentage of Jews saw their national identity as belonging to whatever state they resided in (all of my Jewish friends growing up here in the United States have always felt very comfortable calling themselves Americans first and foremost). Sadly, European Christians were not willing to allow Jews to become a part of their national identity. This is what for the first time made a return to Ancient Israel/ Palestine (whatever you want to call it) a necessity for (at first ) European Jews and slowly created a distinctive Israeli identity. In the same way, Palestinians were not a seperate people prior to the last century and were part of the larger Arab constituency of the Ottoman empire. A common national identity was developed because in the wake of European colonialism different Arabs, who had before mainly identified by family, clan, tribe, etc different nations were being built from the top down. The Arabs living in modern day Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, just like Arabs in Jordan, Saudi, etc started to develop their own national identities. The Arabs in that area were not welcome as Israelis because Israeli identity was so closely defined with Judaism (I am not condemning this; it is simply a tragic effect of the Holocaust which made it necessary for European Jewry to form a national identity) and therefore developed a distinct Palestinian identity (if you travel to the West Bank, like I have, you will know that a very distinct Palestinian identity does in fact exist).

    Furthermore, to condemn Palestinians as terrorists is simply racist and close minded. Israelis have also done many condemnable things- conflict such as this sadly breed a great deal of atrocities. You can not expect the Palestinians to simply disappear and not fight against occupation. 19th century European colonialism is over and we are in the age of nation states and national identities- like countless people before them the Palestinians have a right to a sovereign state and will continue to fight for it. I condemn any acts of terrorism (and you ignore the many peaceful acts of protests that occur in the West Bank almost every day that are often very violently put down by Israel.

  • Posted by ah

    Sagar – very well stated.

  • Posted by Emile Tubiana

    In response to Sagar January 7, 2014
    Thank you for taking the time to respond to my comment. You said the Israelis were not a nation but being Hebrews, Jews or Yehoud as the Arabs call them, or le people juif, as the French call them, or Juden as the Germans call them, they are all one nation. It does not matter how you call it. What difference does it make? The Jewish people existed with a long history and a collective memory. We should not forget that during WWI Jews from all over the world took part in the fight to defeat the Ottoman Empire, alongside the British. Furthermore, during WWII the Jews from Palestine formed the Jewish Brigade that fought with the British against the Germans, while the Mufti of Jerusalem sided with Hitler. The Mufti even came to recruit Tunisian volunteers for the German army. I was there at that time. What you don’t seem or don’t want to recognize is that the name Palestinians was not only given to the Arabs who lived in Palestine, but to any people who lived in that country under the British mandate. The majority of the people who lived in that country called Palestine were the Jews, who have been living there since the time of the Romans and have never left the country. My ancestry is in fact Israeli, as it came from the Tuvia family, which was known and respected by the Romans because it maintained an army, as a business to guard the transfer of merchandise in the entire Middle East. Do not forget that the Jews were taken by the Romans as slaves between 27 BC and AD 476. Israel has never contested the presence of the Palestinians; they can stay as long as they want in that part of the Jewish land the Bible calls Judea and Samaria. Now it’s called the West Bank. We who came from Arab countries, we never claimed that those states belong to us. The rest of your commentary I will classify as irrelevant as it ignores our history which even the Arabs have included in their holy book.

  • Posted by ah

    Emile – Your review of history as commonly known is perfectly fine.
    It gets questionable however when you say a) “The majority of the people who lived in that country called Palestine were the Jews”, as this is an untrue statement contradictory to census and survey data from the time.

    and b) “Israel has never contested the presence of the Palestinians”, as indeed they have, i.e. Golda Meir “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people”, calls from current coalition partners to expel all Palestinians into Jordan and called that “Palestine”.

    As for “They can stay as long as they want in that part of the Jewish land”, that is so very nice of you to let those people stay on your Judea and Samaria. Unfortunately, this is not quite the case, as this land is being increasingly gobbled up by Jewish Israeli settlements.

    While I don’t disagree with your argument that Jews have ties to the land and that Israel is a legitimate country (all of this I agree with), I disagree with your rosy assessment that Israel is a land of milk and honey that welcomes any and all people upon their land. In fact, the reality is significantly more racist, xenophobic, ethnically exclusive and aggressive.

  • Posted by EMT

    http://www.dreuz.info/2012/12/article-31660511/ Interesting French article about a book written in 1695 by the Dutch professor Hadrian Reland who traveled to Palestine, took a census in Gaza and found the population to be 50% Jewish and 50% Christian.

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