It's not a gesture. It's not an act aimed at advancing the peace process and building trust between the two sides. It's a futile, unnecessary move, and therefore immoral.
Whoever signed the list of 26 Palestinian life prisoners who are about to be released does not really believe in the peace process. What we are seeing here is a political maneuver of horse dealers exchanging some construction in the territories for a few prisoners, winking at any possible coalition. It's not a diplomatic move, with leadership, with a backbone, one that is worth a dramatic and painful decision to free murderers.
It's a cynical, tactic move aimed at achieving one thing: Buying time from the American administration or for the American administration. It may be part of a larger regional diplomatic move, but it's more likely that this entire maneuver was created so that the Americans would not blame Israel for thwarting the Kerry initiative at the current stage.
If it weren't so sad, we would say that the list of prisoners organized this week by the ministerial committee is taken from the genre of Polish women jokes: If I can't enjoy it – neither will you. Indeed, Abbas and his people will have to make an effort to organize a festival of popular support, in light of the fact that more than half of the prisoners will be released to the Gaza Strip.
For the first course the ministers selected "light murderers." They do not include leaders who developed in prison, none of them committed any heroic activity which found its way into the Palestinian ethos, excluding perhaps the murderers of collaborators. Some are strictly criminal types, who had a nationalistic motive attached to them. Just scums of the earth who murdered elderly people among others. Even those of them who were involved in a "security-related incident" belong at best to the second league in the hierarchy of terror. It's safe to assume that some of the young Palestinians, before running to the street to greet them, will run to Wikipedia to remember who they are.
This list does not express faith in Abbas or optimism over the success of the diplomatic move. Whoever signed this list did not think for a minute that this is what would serve as a tail wind for the leader on the Palestinian street.
The Shin Bet, in principle, defines the release of prisoners with blood on their hands as part of a gesture as a move which causes damage to its combat doctrine. So the main consideration behind the list of prisoners they prepared is not its contribution to the peace process, but minimizing the Shin Bet's professional damages. For the politicians, who don't really believe there will be many more rounds of prisoner releases, this was good enough.
The decision to give the defense minister the honor to chair the committee which chose the list of prisoners to be released as the first course is just the pale shadow of a recommendation taken from the Shamgar Committee, which was appointed after Gilad Shalit's release. The committee's recommendations were handed over to the cabinet before the elections, but have not been approved till this very day. Among other things, the committee recommended that the decision maker – the prime minister – would be isolated from external pressure in order to allow him to make a sound decision. Therefore, the committee maintained, the routine management of the negotiations should be in the hands of the defense minister. Prime Minister Netanyahu's illness created a situation in which the defense minister was the one who made the decision and took the responsibility for the prisoners' list.
The maneuvers and explanations won't help. One doesn't have to be an expert to realize that this move is twisted. A goodwill gesture should bring the sides closer together, improve the atmosphere between them, get the wide public to support the peace talks. Here it has created an opposite result: Both sides are gloomy – and the victims' families are bleeding again.