J.J. Goldberg

As Peace Talks Begin, Good Will In Short Supply

By J.J. Goldberg

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images
Freed Palestinian prisoner Salah al-Sahair arrives at family home in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

Secretary of State John Kerry had promised that the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks would be kept confidential, so that the negotiators could exchange ideas without being subject to pressure from extremists on each side until a package of mutual concessions was ready that could show each side what it received in return for what it gave away.

But as Round Two took place Wednesday night in a secret location somewhere in Jerusalem with no Americans present, following the late-night release, at 1:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, of the first 26 Palestinian prisoners, the process is so secretive that it’s set off its own wave of speculation about the low level of shared trust, good will and faith in the outcome.

Avi Issacharoff, the former Maariv military analyst who now writes for the online Walla! News, writes (in Hebrew) that any possible pride either side might take in what should be a hopeful event is overshadowed on both sides by the humiliation of what they’ve already had to give away — for Israel’s Netanyahu, releasing prisoners with blood on their hands in the face of widespread popular outrage, and for Palestinian leader Abbas, resuming negotiations without an Israeli settlement freeze and in fact amid a much ballyhooed wave of new construction plans. Issacharoff writes:

What began as a gesture toward Palestinian Authority chairman Abu Mazen, in advance of the renewal of negotiations, became as the release date approached a serious headache for the Israel government, which had agreed to release murderers. But instead of standing before the cameras and explaining the logic of releasing “senior” terrorists in order to strengthen Abu Mazen, the Israeli side preferred to hide the action from public awareness.

In fact, according to Alex Fishman, the veteran Yediot Ahronot military analyst, writing at Yediot’s Ynet website, Netanyahu turned the supposed goodwill gesture of a prisoner release into another opportunity to humiliate Abbas by picking a list of low-level thugs to release, and then sending half of them to Gaza instead of to the West Bank where Abbas could have arranged a festive reception to reap the credit.

Whoever signed the list of released does not really believe in the peace process. What we are seeing here is a political maneuver of horse dealers exchanging some construction in the territories for a few prisoners, winking at any possible coalition. It’s not a diplomatic move, with leadership, with a backbone, one that is worth a dramatic and painful decision to free murderers.

It’s a cynical, tactic move aimed at achieving one thing: Buying time from the American administration or for the American administration. It may be part of a larger regional diplomatic move, but it’s more likely that this entire maneuver was created so that the Americans would not blame Israel for thwarting the Kerry initiative at the current stage…

…For the first course the ministers selected “light murderers.” They do not include leaders who developed in prison, none of them committed any heroic activity which found its way into the Palestinian ethos, excluding perhaps the murderers of collaborators. Some are strictly criminal types, who had a nationalistic motive attached to them. Just scums of the earth who murdered elderly people among others. Even those of them who were involved in a “security-related incident” belong at best to the second league in the hierarchy of terror. It’s safe to assume that some of the young Palestinians, before running to the street to greet them, will run to Wikipedia to remember who they are.

This list does not express faith in Abbas or optimism over the success of the diplomatic move. Whoever signed this list did not think for a minute that this is what would serve as a tail wind for the leader on the Palestinian street.

Tel Aviv University political scientist Reuven Pedatzur, a Haaretz military analyst, complains that the fate of Israel and the region is dependent entirely on one person, Prime Minister Netanyahu.

What is Israel’s policy on the Palestinian issue? Nobody knows, because precisely in the age of crucial decisions, we have gotten into a situation where our future and that of our neighbors is in the hands of one man who shapes the policy, and nobody but he knows what his intentions are.

Pedatzur writes that Bibi is operating in a solitary isolation that’s unusual even for Israel, where prime ministers traditionally make major decisions on their own. All of the senior officials that he used to rely on for advice have left him, leaving him with a bureau of relatively inexperienced aides. His inner circle of senior ministers with long experience in diplomatic and military affairs, like Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Ehud Barak, has been replaced by the likes of Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, who have none.

He seems to be the first prime minister who has no “kitchen cabinet.” Netanyahu, a suspicious man, does not give his kitchen to any of his colleagues at the cabinet table. His bureau no longer has advisers with whom he shares his intentions. He ascribes no importance to the Foreign Ministry, and he does not make use of the National Security Council to form policy. …

The members of the Winograd Commission, who probed the decision-making processes that led to the Second Lebanon War, analyzed very well the negative ramifications that could be the model Netanyahu is currently using. “Orderly decision making processes should provide the decision makers, and those who assess their conduct, with the means for structuring and considering discretion that will help limit the dangers of uncontrolled reliance on emotion, unfounded intuition, impulsive reaction, or personal and political considerations that may spoil what is underway.

“Decision-makers who act without an organized staff or structured decision-making processes increase the fear that decisions will be made on a flawed factual and professional basis and without full, due thought given to all the relevant considerations. Moreover, without a structured procedure, there is a natural tendency to reach the conclusion largely on the basis of a ‘gut feeling’ and intuition untested by orderly critique by others with a different array of knowledge, experience, culture or ideology.”

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Ynet, Yediot Ahronot, Winograd Commission, West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas, Peace Negotiations, Prisoner Release, Reuven Pedatzur, Tel Aviv University, Walla News, Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks, Gaza Strip, Haaretz, Benjamin Netanyahu, Avi Issacharoff, Alex Fishman, Abu Mazen

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.