On Sunday I got a letter from the prime minister. The letter begins with the State's symbol, blue on white, and ends with Benjamin Netanyahu's personal signature – a huge, proud and secure B, a firm, resolved, uncompromising E, followed by diminishing letters: A falling A, a collapsing H, and finally a U seeking to reverse. That's how my prime minister begins most of his moves – and that's how he ends them.
In his letter, Netanyahu is trying to convince me, a citizen of the State, of the rightness of his decision to release 104 heavy terrorists from prison, including many murderers, who were tried for crimes they committed before the Oslo Agreement was signed. "Prime ministers are required from time to time to make decisions against public opinion," Netanyahu wrote. "In order to make decisions supported by public opinion, there is no need for prime ministers."
In my case, Netanyahu had turned to a sympathizer, a person seeking to be convinced. The fact that he made a decision and is willing to publicly stand behind it is should be appreciated. The fact that the decision contradicts everything he has preached in the past does not necessarily go against him. Ariel Sharon taught us that what you see from there, from the speakers' stand at the Knesset and from the comfortable chairs around the government table, you don't see from here, from the prime minister's throne. Netanyahu saw, internalized and implemented.
Releasing terrorists prematurely irritates every decent person. The pictures of murderers with no regrets celebrating on their way to the bus are a humiliating, tormenting and outrageous sight. Beyond the emotions, there is a dispute here between two approaches: One says that terrorists with blood on their hands must die in prison, as a lesson for all to see; the other seeks to classify the prisoners according to their dangerousness. Whoever aged in prison and has become rusty can go home. He won't return to terror.
Most prisoners Netanyahu agreed to release this time have been sitting in prison for at least 20 years. Some of them have been there for 30 years and more. In the terrorism industry they will be considered pensioners. The damage expected from them is much smaller than the damage from those released as part of the Shalit deal, who were younger and belonged mostly to Hamas.
For all these arguments, and the knowledge that it's a tough and tormenting decision, which Netanyahu is not doing for himself but for what he sees as a national interest, I wanted to write Netanyahu a two-word response: Well done.
Until I read the entire letter, what it has and mainly what it doesn’t have. It doesn't have a single word of explanation, of regret, over the fiery speeches delivered by Netanyahu, the retired Mr. Terror, against such deals in the past; it doesn’t have a single word about the fact that the Shalit deal, with the huge prize it gave Hamas, made Israel obliged towards the Fatah organization and the Palestinian Authority. Abbas could not have reached the talks without a deal releasing his murderers.
It doesn’t have a single word about what Israel is supposed to get in return. "If they give – they will get," Netanyahu used to say about the Palestinians in each and every one of his speeches. "If they don’t give – they won't get." The Palestinians did not give anything this time, apart from willingness to hold talks about holding talks. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to guess what Netanyahu would have said about it had someone else been prime minister.
'Difficult like no other decision'The real explanation for this decision is the deterioration in Israel's global status at a time when we need the West more than ever, both because of Iran and because of Syria and Egypt. He is going to negotiations not in order to reach an agreement but in order to authorize his government in the eyes of the West. It's a legitimate consideration. It's a shame that Israel's citizens, who the prime minister sent his letter to, don’t know about it.
It's a shame that he won't tell them about his deliberations between accepting the demand to release terrorists and accepting the demand to freeze settlement construction completely, in public. It's a shame that he won't explain why he favored one demand over the other – did he see Israel's citizens in front of his eyes or the rightist wing of his party?
It's a shame that he won't tell them that he learned the limits of power during his term. The United States is a world power, he could have told them. It can afford not to release terrorists. Israel cannot afford such luxury.
Leadership is not done by shedding tears, Yitzhak Rabin once said. The weepy element in Netanyahu's letter is unnecessary. He repeats the saying that the decision is "difficult like no other" several times. Those who remember how Netanyahu celebrated the Shalit deal, another decision which he defined as "difficult like no other," will understand that in his case, the distance between a difficulty like no other and a celebration like no other is pretty small.