Negotiating with Terrorists–What is the Correct Exchange Rate?

I am linking here to a terrific post by Amos Guiora and Martha Minow about the exchange that happened last week between Israel and Hizbollah.  They note two very important negotiation issues ongoing in the exchange of five convicted–and live terrorists–for two bodies of Israeli soldiers.   One is the ongoing Israeli commitment to leave no Israeli soldier behind.  With virtually everyone in Israel related to a former or about-to-be soldier, most can easily empathize with the Goldwasser and Regev families.  Guiora and Minow also write, “Another reason [for the exchange] is the truly brilliant advocacy and media campaign by Karnit Goldvasser. Goldvasser’s vow that she will bring her husband home shows admirable personal commitment and extraordinary persuasiveness.”  Having met Karnit and heard her speak, I can personally attest to her negotiation capacities. 

But, as Guiora and Minow note, was this a wise negotiation outcome?  “For the recent exchange alone, the price has already been higher than many would have imagined. Nasarallah embraced Samir Kintar: Lebanon made his return a holiday in Lebanon and both the Prime Minister and the President welcomed him home. Watching the celebration of Samir Kuntar as hero is incomprehensible–after all he killed a father in the presence of his four year girl and then smashed his rifle butt into the little girls head. He is also responsible for the tragic death of that little girl’s two year old sister who was accidentally smothered to death by her mother who-in an effort to prevent her from crying and alerting Kuntar to their hiding place.  Watching the embrace of Kuntar take place simultaneously with the burials of Goldvasser and Regev exacerbated the already difficult question of “what price for an exchange.”  By making the exchange, Israel has demonstrated that it is all negotiable; the only question is at what price. What will be the exchange rate in the future? Is a bargain also to include selling out the state’s obligation to its citizens who are potential targets of terrorism upon the release of convicted terrorists who vow to act again?”

Commentary on the Volokh Conspiracy about negotiating with terrorists also points to this concern and concludes that we should never negotiate with terrorists.  I’m not sure that that is the answer either (particularly when we use this as an excuse not even to talk to certain governments.)  This particular negotiation agreement is easy to understand but hard to comprehend.

3 thoughts on “Negotiating with Terrorists–What is the Correct Exchange Rate?”

  1. I agree with the conclusion that we should never negotiate with terrorists. It has become clear, based on our experiences with this particular brand of terrorist (a terrorist who bases their actions on religious right), that their purpose is completely inconsistent to the purposes of those who are terrorized. The negotiation necessary to get what we want (ending terrorist attacks) implies that we give up something. The problem is that the zone of agreement is either non-existent, or, the reservation point for the terrorists is so far from that of the terrorized that no real, lasting agreement could ever be achieved. Those who would believe that giving terrorists back a few prisoners will satisfy the underlying agenda or purpose of terrorists are blind. This is particular circumstance where I do not believe there are multiple options other than being the doormat or being the pit-bull. As much as I do truly sympathize with the families of the Israeli soldiers and understand their plight, I still believe that in this case Israel is a doormat.

  2. I don’t know about you, David; but i think terrorrism is something that keeps evolving every single day. If we do not confront these terrorists, then what do we do? We just fold our hands and watch our loved ones die? Also, Some of these terrorists simply want to be heard. There surely have been examples where they simply gave up and released theri prisoners after they had vented their anger. We keep saying “we should never negotiate with terrorists”. So, what is the alternative to negotiating with terrorists? Negotiation is not argument. Remember these terrorists already have something they are holding on to. sometimes, i agree they see no reasosn at all, but otther times…we never know.

  3. Nekychary, the fact that terrorists happen to let hostages go on one occassion does not rid them of their terrorist label. The alternative to negotiating with terrorists is killing/capturing terrorists. People who are willing to kill other human beings or themselves for religious purposes, for example, cannot be reasoned with. You must have more faith in terrorists than I.

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