Israel Releasing Palestinians Who Killed Israelis; Cabinet Approved ‘Price for Peace Talks’ to Keep U.S. Happy — Shin Bet’s Assessment?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mostly right-wing ministers (Sunday) approved the release of over a hundred Palestinian “security prisoners” — including men convicted of terrorist crimes.  Some Israeli ministers said all the 104 to be freed were serving life sentences for killing Israelis.

Netanyahu, in BBC interview, 18 April 2013

This kind of “gesture” became routine, over the decades when peace negotiations were being arranged. The Israelis hope they are pleasing their American allies, by taking a painful step in order to talk serious with the Palestinian Authority.

The PA, which makes it sound as though talking with Israel is a vast concession — when Israel refuses to announce a freeze in West Bank and Jerusalem settlement expansion — can tell its people, “We’re sitting down with the Zionists, even though they keep stealing our land, but at least we’re getting a lot of our boys out of Israeli prisons.”

Shin Bet’s logo: Hebrew words mean “The Defender That Won’t Be Seen”

As for analysis by the intelligence community, the director of the domestic security service Shin Bet — Yoram Cohen — told Netanyahu’s cabinet that every release of men who’d been terror activists does a measure of harm to Israel’s security.

The certainty of harsh punishment is shaken when detainees and convicts are released early. But the security chief did reportedly admit that there’s a happiness factor: West Bank residents will enjoy the return home of husbands and sons, and thus they will give the PA government of Mahmoud Abbas (a.k.a. Abu Mazen) some breathing room to explore negotiations with Israel.

Meantime Cohen’s predecessor, Yuval Diskin — one of the former Shin Bet chiefs interviewed in The Gatekeepers, the Hebrew-language documentary that’s moved from American movie theaters to the DVD and download market — is quoted as saying that Israel is approaching “the point of no return” when it comes to negotiating secure borders and a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Diskin told Israel’s Channel 10 news that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders “are deep in the mud with very little energy and ability to move forward. … There are some things that are very painful which might have to happen in order to get the ball rolling.”

That would include the release of Palestinian prisoners “with blood on their hands,” as Israeli officials often describe militants who were captured — often in complex covert operations aimed against terrorist groups. Israel’s security agencies and army have repeatedly found that they have had to locate and capture some of the same Arab fighters who had previously been in prisons.

On the other hand, many of the Palestinian Authority officials with whom Israel has negotiated were themselves men of violence in Yasser Arafat’s al-Fatah organization (the core of the PA, now a government of sorts based in Ramallah).

Still, there is a surprising choice made by Netanyahu and most of his cabinet: Better to release convicted killers in order to get peace talks re-started, rather than agreeing to the other demand constantly made by the Palestinians — that settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem be halted.

July 29, 2013

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