UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made headlines by using his trip to the Middle East to bolster peace talks by doing what everyone does when they parachute into the region to look productive: take shots at Israel. As the Times of Israel reports, today Ban said that he was “deeply troubled by Israel’s continuing settlement activity in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem.”
But the more revealing part of the story is was this: “Under US pressure, [Palestinian leader Mahmoud] Abbas eventually agreed to return to talks without a settlement freeze, though the Palestinian leader’s aides have said the Obama administration assured them it would try to restrain Israeli construction over the Green Line.” Abbas agreed to return to talks without a settlement freeze because he was granted the release of Palestinian terrorists instead of a settlement freeze. But apparently he thought he was getting both: one officially and one unofficially.
That about sums up the last two decades of peace processing between the two sides. The Palestinians are granted a concession in order to say no to the Israelis in person, while the “international community” seeks to pressure Israel to make separate concessions it never agreed to. In the end, Israeli leaders are expected to abide by everyone’s requests while the Palestinians aren’t even expected to fulfill formal agreements. The other aspect of this, and the one Ban doesn’t seem to have commented on, is that the concession Israel made in order to restart talks–the release of murderers–was permanent.
Or was it? A Times of Israel blogger reported earlier this week that one of the murderers on the list killed an American citizen, and called on the FBI to arrest him. It’s doubtful the U.S. would ask Israel to release someone as a concession to the Palestinians and then re-arrest them. But this case is more interesting for the U.S. than the others because it brings closer to home the question Jonathan asked when the prisoner release was agreed on: “Would Americans Release Terrorist Killers?”
It would be difficult for the Obama administration to object to a prisoner’s release that they pressured Israel to carry out in the first place. But would the president see releasing a terrorist with American blood on his hands as an acceptable concession? How about from an American prison? After all, if the Obama administration can acquiesce to the release of a man who killed an American, does it really matter which cell he’s released from?
And where do you draw the line? If releasing the killer of an American citizen is acceptable, would the administration consider releasing Sirhan Sirhan–the Palestinian terrorist who murdered Bobby Kennedy–for the sake of “peace”? The administration surely wouldn’t say that a senator’s life was worth more than a non-senator. Sirhan is currently serving a life sentence in California, though he was originally given the death penalty. Here is the New York Times dispatch from the day of Sirhan’s sentencing in 1969, explaining the clamor in favor of putting Sirhan to death:
Mr. Stitzel, a pressroom foreman for the Los Angeles Times, told newsmen:
“There was no one thing that swayed them over. One item, however, that was very important was that we should stand behind our laws. There seems to be a tendency today to not do this – to be lax. I felt all along that because of the seriousness and gravity of the crime it should be the death penalty. As long as we have capital punishment, what other crime would justify the death penalty if this didn’t?”
Notice the language: “we should stand behind our laws.” And: “what other crime would justify the death penalty if this didn’t?” Such crimes–acts of bloodlust carried out by Sirhan’s compatriots in the Palestinian territories for decades–are considered shocking to the core when they are infrequent. That there are so many such criminals in Israel’s jails would seem to indicate a problem with Palestinian governance, wouldn’t it?
Yet the world looks at the sheer number of Palestinian terrorists and pretends they are no longer murderers if they are let free, their crimes erased from memory and from the consciences of those who don’t have to live with the consequences. And as if that weren’t enough, the UN secretary-general follows up the prisoner release by pronouncing from Ramallah that he is “deeply troubled” by the lack of even more concessions from Israel. Abbas is frustrated too, for he was told that Israel would be held to even the concessions it never offered. It’s no surprise that polls show deep Israeli skepticism toward this process, which the U.S. and UN mediation will only reinforce.