The motives behind Israel’s prisoner release

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 |  Israel Today Staff

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s agreement to the Palestinian precondition of releasing 104 terrorists sporadically over the next nine months of peace negotiations has left many questioning his resolve and leadership ability. What most Israelis want to know is ‘why and at what cost?’

Unfortunately, as hard as it is to hear, this time round we are expecting nothing in return from the Palestinians – only the hope that Mahmoud Abbas will actually remain at the negotiating table for the full nine months.

With so little optimism, the decision to release such dangerous killers has been a severe shock to the system for the Israeli public and even many within Netanyahu’s own Likud Party. It is widely argued that this decision has done severe damage to Israel’s sovereignty and sense of justice, traditional sources of national pride, at least for those outside the political power structure.

The reasoning behind Netanyahu’s “difficult decision” at present remains classified. Netanyahu’s open letter to the public and the promise to send a hand-signed copy by mail to those requesting it was seen as Netanyahu’s way of communicating his reluctance, if not guilt, over the matter. However, not once did he mention his motives behind such a move.

Considering Netanyahu’s only on-record rationale that “this is good for the country” suggests that he knows something that we do not know – yet. Perhaps by keeping ‘schtum’ on the matter, Netanyahu believes himself to be protecting the public and shielding his own intentions prior to the final stages of the renewed negotiations. Placing Netanyhu’s decision in light of Israel on the international stage and not in the framework of domestic politics, one may begin to identify his potential reasoning.

According to Ron Ben Yishai, a writer for Ynet News, Netanyahu’s real explanation for such a decision is because Israel’s global status is in fact deteriorating. With the events taking place in Syria and Egypt in addition to the looming Iranian threat, Israeli is feeling very isolated and vulnerable. As such, Israel’s perceived need for the West is peaking.

From now until spring 2014, Israel has the capability of preventing the Iranian nuclear program only if it receives support and legitimacy from the West, mainly the US. Furthermore, European Union economic sanctions on Jewish settlements beyond the Green Line has intensified Israel’s diplomatic isolation and become a real strategic threat to the economy.

Could it be that the agreed release of Palestinian prisoner has provided Israel a bargaining chip with Washington over the wider Arab-Israeli conflict? Therefore when Netanyahu claims that releasing 104 Palestinian terrorists is “good for the country” perhaps what he is really saying is that it is “good from a long-term point of view,” a long-term that could see Israel needing to take drastic measures in the region for the sake of her own survival.

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