On Sunday, Issa Karaka, the Palestinian Authority’s minister for jailed terrorists, announced that in the next round of terrorist releases, Israel will release not only Palestinian terrorist murderers, but Israeli Arabs who murdered Israeli Jews in terrorist attacks.
As late as last week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was said to have completely rejected the Palestinian demand. But in response to Karaka’s statement, Netanyahu’s spokesman said only that the release of Israeli Arab terrorists would be subject to the approval of the government. In other words, Karaka was probably telling the truth.
The question is what has changed? Why happened over the past week that forced Netanyahu to cave? The obvious answer is that US Secretary of State John Kerry came to Jerusalem, again. And he forced Netanyahu’s hand, again.
Kerry is the Palestinians’ ace in the hole. He used the US’s limitless leverage on Israel to coerce Israel into agreeing to pay for the privilege of speaking to Palestinian negotiators who reject our country’s right to exist and extol as heroes the terrorist scum who murder us.
For the pleasure of their company, Kerry forced Israel to agree up-front to release scores of Palestinian terrorist murderers. And he did so in bad faith.
According to a high-ranking government official, Israel told Kerry it would release 82 murderers, none of whom are Israelis. And he agreed. But then, during a joint appearance with Kerry, PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas announced that Israel had agreed to release 104 terrorists, including Israeli citizens. Rather than correct him, Kerry went along, and so locked Israel into a concession it had never made.
And now, with Kerry’s support, Karaka said that if Israel refuses to release Israeli Arab murderers in the next round of releases, the PLO will abandon the talks. The EU has already announced that it will blame Israel for any PLO walkout.
It has been clear for some time that Israel is playing a sucker’s game here. The deck is stacked against us. Every step Israel takes to either buy time or lessen US pressure only leads to more pressure.
Netanyahu reportedly agreed to release terrorists from prison because Kerry told him that he had to make a big concession: either release murderers or effectively surrender Israel’s national rights to Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem by abrogating Jewish property rights in those areas through a so-called construction freeze. As law professor Eugene Kontorovich explained last week in Commentary, Netanyahu chose the terrorist release as the lesser of two evils because it involved no long-term, substantive concession of Israel’s national and legal rights to the Palestinians.
But then along came the Palestinian- American demand for Israel to release Israeli Arab terrorists, and transformed the Palestinian-American demand for Israel to release terrorists from just another act of bad faith into an assault on Israel’s right to exist.
For sovereignty to mean anything, a national government needs to have the capacity to enforce its laws without prejudice on all of its citizens. If this does not occur, over time, members of the group toward which national authorities fail to apply the law will feel less loyal, less attached and less obligated to that authority and, if there is a competing authority filling the vacuum, that authority will come to enjoy more loyalty, attachment and obligation from the spurned or immune citizens of the weakened national authority.
The PLO’s demand that Israel release terrorists who hold Israeli citizenship, (or in the case of Jerusalem residents, permanent residency), is a clear bid to weaken Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, and over the Galilee and the Negev. More generally it is an attempt to undermine Israel’s right to assert its sovereign authority over non-Jews.
By the PLO’s calculations, if Israel’s right to assert its sovereignty over its non-Jewish citizens and residents is sufficiently discredited, then over time, the PLO can destroy Israeli democracy and undo Israel’s national rights and sovereignty.
Since the onset of the so-called peace process between Israel and the PLO in 1993, one of the PLO’s strategic goals has been to win the Israeli Arabs over to its side and cause the Israeli Arabs to reject their Israeli identity. The same has been the case for Arab Jerusalemites who are permanent residents of Israel.
From 1993 through 2000, the PLO spent tens of millions of dollars to advance this aim. And to a large degree, they were successful. By the start of the Palestinian terror war against Israel in 2000, the vast majority of Israeli Arabs rejected Israel’s right to exist and all Arab MKs were openly opposed to Israel’s existence. The Arab Israeli riots in October 2000, during which Israeli Arabs launched mob assaults against Jews were a direct consequence of PLO incitement and subversion of the Israeli Arab community over the previous seven years.
Over the ensuing years, some of the deadliest terror attacks were carried out by terror cells that included Israeli Arabs or Jerusalemites. The Silwan terror cell from Jerusalem, which was most active in 2002 and 2003, carried out multiple massacres that killed 35 Israelis and wounded hundreds more.
But while some Israeli Arabs and Jerusalemites joined the Palestinian campaign to destroy Israel, many more embarked on an opposite path of full integration into Israeli society. Since 2000, tens of thousands of Jerusalemites have applied for Israeli citizenship. Each year more and more Arab parents in Jerusalem – and increasingly in the Galilee and Haifa – are registering their children in Hebrew-language, Jewish schools.
The number of Christian Arabs enlisting in the IDF has increased hundreds of percentage points over the past few years. The number of Muslim and Christian Israeli Arabs volunteering in national service is similarly skyrocketing. Even Jerusalem residents are volunteering for national service. And adult Arabs are integrating into all levels of the job force countrywide.
As Nadav Shragai reported in Friday’s Yisrael Hayom, Israel’s acquiescence last month to the Palestinian-American demand to release five terrorist murderers from eastern Jerusalem endangers the integrationist trend in the city. It strengthens the hand of Hamas and the PLO over Israel by weakening the Arabs’ assessment of Israel’s national authority.
Obviously, the same will occur in the Galilee and Negev if Israel releases Israeli Arab terrorist murderers from prison.
One of the reasons that most Israelis now recognize that the peace process is a hoax is that the PLO continues to signal that a “final” accord will not settle all Palestinian claims against Israel. The PLO intends to use a “Palestine” in Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem and Gaza to threaten and weaken Israel’s sovereignty in its remaining territory. The PLO’s demand that Israel free its own citizens from prison for acts of treason and murder is a clear indication that this is in fact the group’s long-term plan.
Kerry’s support for the PLO’s demands on terrorists shows Israel two things.
First, at a minimum, Kerry doesn’t have a problem with the Palestinian claim that Israel’s sovereign rights over non- Jews – and hence Israel’s right to sovereignty generally – is limited at best. Second, it shows that there are no concessions that Netanyahu can make to Kerry that will not have dire long-term consequences for Israel.
Walking away from the phony negotiations will be painful. But as Kerry’s demands indicate, the price for remaining at the table gets higher by the day.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.