Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Condi and Israel’s Disgrace

P. David Hornik | 8/27/2008
On Tuesday afternoon Condi Rice wound up a 24-hour, mercifully brief visit to Israel—her seventh since the “Annapolis process” was launched late last year—with a press conference in Ramallah alongside Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. Rice told the conference that “I don’t think [Israeli] settlement activity is helpful to the process. What we need now are steps that enhance confidence between the parties and...anything that undermines confidence between the parties ought to be avoided.” A few hours before Rice’s arrival on Monday, in what was described as a “gesture” to Abbas and clearly was also timed as a gesture to Rice, Israel freed 198 Palestinian security prisoners. Among them were Said al-Atba, who in 1977 masterminded a market bombing in the Israeli town of Petah Tikva that killed a 54-year-old woman and injured dozens of other people, and Muhammad Abu Ali, who in 1980 murdered a 20-year-old yeshiva student in Hebron and later murdered a Palestinian in jail he accused of being an informer for Israel.

These two and the other released prisoners were festively received by a crowd of thousands at Abbas’s Ramallah headquarters. In the presidential compound a giant poster hung with pictures of Abbas, al-Atba, and Abu Ali. Abbas told the cheering crowd: “We will not rest until [all] the prisoners are freed and the jails are empty,” and he specifically mentioned Marwan Barghouti, the “Second Intifada” mastermind now serving five consecutive life sentences for murder, and Ahmed Saadat, the former leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine now in jail for the 2001 assassination of an Israeli cabinet minister.

Asked at the start of her visit what she thought of the Israeli “gesture,” Rice replied that “there is no doubt that the prisoner exchange [sic] is very important to the Palestinians. It’s something that Abu Mazen [Abbas] brings up each time we meet…. This is something that matters a lot to the Palestinians. It matters a lot to the Palestinian people. And it is obviously a sign of goodwill.”

A sign of goodwill—yes, for diplomats who want to see it that way. Meanwhile it was reported that Israeli security bodies say that about 50 percent of freed terrorists return to terror activity; that since a 2004 swap with Hezbollah in which 400 Palestinians and five others were released, the freed prisoners have murdered a total of 35 Israelis; and that terrorists freed by Israel since 2000 have perpetrated at least 30 attacks that killed 177 while injuring and maiming many others.

It is said that in some respects Israel has become an embarrassment to its supporters, and with good reason. Many criticized last July’s exchange with Hezbollah in which Israel released a child-murderer, Samir Kuntar, and four other terrorists in return for the corpses of two soldiers. In the present “gesture” to Abbas, Israel received precisely nothing in return. The “thinking,” though, if one can call it that, was that including al-Atba and Abu Ali in the gesture—prisoners with “blood on their hands”—would show Abbas that not only Hezbollah could receive such prizes but also Abbas even without his Palestinian Authority holding any Israelis, live or dead, hostage at the moment.

The shame, though, is also that of Rice and her boss, President George W. Bush, who has become best known for what is called a “War on Terror” and who famously stated that “You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror.” That Rice, his emissary, didn’t hesitate to brand Israel’s building of homes in ostensibly proscribed areas as “[un]helpful to the process” and “undermin[ing] confidence between the parties” but had nothing at all to say about Abbas calling for the release of Barghouti and Saadat is both drearily predictable and necessary to mention if moral sanity is not to be lost altogether.

Utterly de rigueur, too, is the fact that no one on the American or Israeli side had anything to say about the fact that Abbas, instead of capitalizing on Israel’s “gesture” to preach peace to the assembled thousands of Palestinians, only used it to call for the freeing of thousands more terrorists. This is not surprising considering that last month Abbas sent glad tidings to Kuntar and didn’t incur for that one one-thousandth of the censure Israel gets for building homes in certain parts of Jerusalem—in fact, none at all.

The rationale offered for appeasing Abbas is his supposed moderacy along with the supposed comparative extremism of Hamas. The present U.S. and Israeli governments have gone too far and too cravenly along this path to ask what this “moderacy” could be worth if it’s so closely tied to the very force that is purportedly being fought: terrorism. In this regard, at least, it’s a relief that both governments are in their latter days and their respective replacements will have a chance at moral regeneration.
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Tel Aviv. He blogs at He can be reached at

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