The gestures were never beneficial to the Israeli public. The machineguns were not utilized by Palestinian Authority soldiers to fight Hamas strongholds, but rather, were directed at IDF and Border Guard forces; the armored cars were not used as a police force, but rather, blocked IDF troops pursuing terrorists in narrow alleyways; the helicopters did not transfer patients to hospitals, but rather, were used to smuggle in weapons, money, and wanted suspects for the benefit of terror groups. The released prisoners, beyond undermining Israeli deterrence and emptying Israeli law of any substance, went back to terror activity.
Yet more than anything, these gestures adopt a racist, patronizing perception vis-à-vis the Palestinians. They are being perceived as some kind of “wild beast” that must be appeased, trained, and showered with gifts and gestures, as if they are not rational people who can be partners to genuine talks. The gesture strategy marks capitulation to the narrative that perceives them as hysterical, hot-blooded, and obsessed with honor – the kind of people who must constantly be given gifts so that they don’t suddenly leave the negotiations or dinner table.
Just like we treat a reckless child so he doesn’t embarrass us when guests arrive - we buy every possible toy for him, just to make sure he sits up straight and finishes everything on his plate.
Yet any nanny would tell the parents this won’t work. You must not convey a message to a child that his parents will pay money to make him “behave.” This message includes giving up on the expectation that the child will behave properly and grants him intolerable blackmail power in the future. The parents will turn into a constant mechanism for attempts to appease the child constantly so that he doesn’t “break the rules.”
Let’s say that our army chief was bothered by the ambivalence shown by settlers when it comes to joining the IDF. Would he propose that the defense minister offer them a gesture and unilaterally allow them to return to two of their Gush Katif communities? Will a US president interested in prompting Israel to evacuate illegal outposts promote this message by suddenly releasing Jonathan Pollard, Just so the Israelis don’t cancel the next meeting between the secretary of state and the Israeli military attaché in Washington?
The prime minister’s uncontrollable urge to make gestures not only leaves Israel without bargaining chips in favor of releasing Gilad Shalit, and not only does it show contempt to our legal system, it also labels the Palestinians as a mad child who without Ritalin gets his parents to do anything, just to prevent him from lying down on the floor in a crowded mall.
If our government views our Palestinian partner this way, it must admit immediately that there is no partner for negotiations here. Yet if it doesn’t think so, it should condition the achievements this partner secures on his willingness to honor agreements.
Dr. Udi Lebel is a senior political psychology lecturer at Sapir College and the Ariel University Center of Samaria