Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Releasing More Prisoners to Strengthen Abbas?

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview with Time Magazine that he will demand that Benjamin Netanyahu fulfill Ehud Olmert's promise to release more prisoners as a gesture to the PA. According to an article in Haaretz, he is demanding the release of archterrorists Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Sa'adat. Olmert has confirmed that he promised to release more prisoners once the Shalit deal is reached, but if I understand correctly, Barghouti and Saadat weren't part of the promise.

So, should Israel release more prisoners to strengthen Abbas? Well, first we should ask if such a move would really bolster the Palestinian president's standing among Palestinians. I don't think so. If Israel releases Palestinians to the PA, in order to balance the achievements of Hamas, wouldn't Palestinians credit Hamas also with this additional release? After all, they will argue that it would not have happened in the first place without the Hamas deal, and they would probably be right. At best, Hamas and Abbas would get joint credit.

Let's say Abbas does get a boost from this, does he deserve it? No, he doesn't, with his UN bid and tendency to come up with new preconditions for negotiations. Be that as it may, it is in Israel's best interest to resume the peace process with a serious partner, and Abbas is the closest thing we've got.

Having said all that, I haven't come to a conclusion, one way or another. It may be a good idea to release more prisoners, and it might not be. One thing I'm certain of, though, is that if we do release more prisoners, Barghouti and Saadat should not be included.

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