A price much too high
Netanyahu – who in his political career has written clearly and spoken out publicly against releasing terrorists – is well aware of how problematic the move is. Difficulties are multiplied when Israel receives nothing tangible in return, as appears to be the case in the present deal.Are they suggesting Netanyahu should avoid having Israel take blame? Even Winston Churchill didn't think the UK should consider that their prime concern when public safety takes priority.
Admittedly, there may be several factors mitigating in favor of the prisoner release. Previous deals, such as the 2011 Gilad Schalit prisoner swap or the 2008 exchange for the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, were made with terrorist organizations that called for the destruction of Israel and did not hide the fact that they were actively working toward that end.
In contrast, the present concession is being made to the Palestinian Authority, which at least ostensibly has renounced terrorism and has accepted in principle a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And while the Obama administration has never explicitly linked progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front to support for Israel’s right to defend itself against the existential threat posed by Iran’s relentless nuclear march, Netanyahu does not want to alienate the White House at a time when the Iranian regime is poised to reach nuclear “breakout” capability.
What’s more, Netanyahu wants to avoid a situation in which Israel is blamed for torpedoing hopes for the renewal of peace negotiations with the Palestinians. This is particular pertinent after US Secretary of State John Kerry invested so much time and energy in reviving the long-stalled talks. The very fact that Kerry has shuttled back and forth six times generates its own indirect pressure on Israel.
Netanyahu has also received the assurances of the Shin Bet and the IDF that Israel’s security establishment can thwart any future dangers created by the release of experienced terrorists.
Nevertheless, the agreement to release 104 terrorists at such an early stage seems premature. Actual negotiations have not even begun and even the “contours and modalities” of the future talks have yet to be hammered out.
This is something that in the future is bound to have a very bad impact on Netanyahu's career, and that moment could be coming sooner or later.