Under pressure to restart talks with Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority,
Israel has diverged from its refusal to accede to preconditions and agreed to
free 104 terrorists from its jails. It’s a mistake. Israel should withstand the
pressure and say no. Why? Because it makes a mockery of justice – and inflicts
unimaginable pain on families of the victims – when murderers walk free. It
boosts the standing of terrorist groups and encourages the kidnapping of
Israelis for the purpose of extorting the release of further
It demoralizes Israeli counter-terrorism personnel who risk
life and limb to capture these murderers and erodes Israeli deterrence to
vanishing point when the most bloodthirsty murderers know they are likely to be
freed early. Above all, it results in the subsequent murder of additional
Israelis by terrorists freed under such deals.
In short, we’ve been here
before and the results have been inarguably tragic. The Almagor Terrorist
Victims Association disclosed in April 2007 that 177 Israelis who died in terror
attacks in the previous five years had been killed by terrorists freed from
Israeli jails. An earlier Almagor report showed that 123 Israelis were murdered
by terrorists freed during between 1993 and 1999. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan
has observed that the terrorists released in the 2004 Elhanan Tenenbaum prisoner
exchange deal caused the death of 231 Israelis.
In agreeing to this
morally unjust, tactically unwise, strategically harmful, militarily hazardous
and lifeendangering unilateral concession, we see the profound and purposeless
erosion of Israeli will.
In the past, Israel at least scrupled not to
free those with “blood on their hands” and demanded the return of living
Israelis, however lopsided the exchange. In July 2008, however, Israel agreed to
release to Hezbollah a gruesome murderer, Samir Kuntar, and four others
prisoners in return for the corpses of two kidnapped Israelis. In August 2008,
Israel freed 198 jailed terrorists, including two with blood on their hands and
149 others guilty of attempted murder, as a “confidence-building
In October 2009, Israel freed 20 Palestinian terrorists – not
for a life or a corpse, but for a video of a kidnapped Israeli. And in October
2011, Israel freed 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, including hundreds of convicted
terrorists, in exchange for a single kidnapped Israeli serviceman, Gilad
Schalit. This lead Hamas’s Khaled Mashaal to crow that “this is a national
achievement for the Palestinian people... we promise the rest of the Palestinian
detainees to liberate them.... Those released will return to armed
On this occasion, however, the Israelis cannot even take
refuge in the consolation that they freed a loved one, retrieved a corpse or
even obtained a video. They cannot reassure themselves with the idea that the
release poses no danger, since all of the 104 have been involved in the murder
of Israelis. They cannot even say that they exacted any concession from the PA.
To the contrary, Mahmoud Abbas just reiterated that he will not permit “the
presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands.”
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is not unaware of the danger; to the contrary, he
once warned against the very thing he now intends to do. In his 1995 book,
Fighting Terrorism, Netanyahu observed that refusing to release terrorists was
“among the most important policies that must be adopted in the face of
terrorism.” With this release, he also erodes his credibility by dishonoring his
pledge to withstand Palestinian preconditions.
US pressure alone explains
Netanyahu’s decision, not some valuable quid pro quo. How else to account for a
decision opposed by 85 percent of the Israeli public and the Shin Bet (Israel
Security Agency) head, Yoram Cohen? The Obama administration has not expressed a
new determination to see Iran cross no red lines in its march to a nuclear
weapon. US President Barack Obama has not altered his earlier negotiating
baseline of an Israeli return to the 1949 armistice lines. Abbas’s goal of a
judenrein Palestinian state has just been reiterated, not
Those trying to make sense of the decision speak of Israel
keeping the US on their side in dealing with Iran – which suggests that Israel
has lacked this all along.
The idea that the US needs some Israeli
concession to unify its Arab allies against the Iranian nuclear threat is in any
case absurd, given the imploring of Arab leaders for Washington to deal with the
problem, as revealed by the Wikileaks documents. The Obama administration has
made Israel no secret promise of action on Iran, military or otherwise – top
Israeli officials have privately told us as much, and it is hard for any country
to insist on secret commitments of this type anyway.
All of which
suggests that Israel will rue this decision.
The US would never release
Guantanamo detainees because the Taliban demands it in return for talks. Why
should Israel? It is still not too late for Jerusalem to refuse to release the
terrorists – and say why.
Morton A. Klein is national president of the
Zionist Organization of America. Dr. Daniel Mandel is director of the ZOA’s
Center for Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Evatt & the
Establishment of Israel (London, 2004).