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(photo credit: AP [file])
French president Nicolas Sarkozy claims to believe that convicted terrorist Salah Hassan Hamouri shouldn't serve his full sentence for participating in a plot to assassinate Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Pro forma Sarkozy's line is that Hamouri "is capable of rehabilitation."
Considering the gravity of the charges, Hamouri was let off lightly and is due to be out in three years. The head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Jerusalem, he was arrested on March 13, 2005. According to his own confession and those of his co-conspirators, Hamouri, along with Musa Darwish and Muhammad al-Sheikh, plotted several terror attacks, prime among them being the killing of Shas's leader.
Darwish knew Yosef's Har-Nof neighborhood well, having worked in a nearby grocery. The three conducted reconnaissance there. Their plan was for Hamouri to speed by on a motorcycle just as Yosef was entering his building and spray the venerable rabbi with M-16 fire. The others were to rush into the house with Kalashnikovs and grenades, shooting guards and anyone else around.
After a plea-bargain, Hamouri - who holds both a blue Israeli ID card as an east Jerusalem resident, and French citizenship - was sentenced to seven years.
His projected atrocity could have resulted in a bloodbath had the Shin Bet not foiled it. So why did Sarkozy, who first raised the matter when visiting Israel last year, last week write to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu requesting Hamouri's early release?
IN FRANCE, Hamouri's mother Denise is spearheading a high-profile campaign on behalf of her son. She met with higher-ups at the Elysee Palace to seek Sarkozy's intervention, demanding the same attention and commitment as Sarkozy has devoted to the case of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, seized by Hamas from inside Israel's southern border. Schalit also holds French citizenship.
Apparently this pressure prompted Sarkozy's attempt at intervention, again, in Israeli internal affairs. It is only weeks since he opined to Netanyahu that the prime minister ought to rid his government of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and replace him with Kadima's Tzipi Livni.
This latest intrusion may be no less impertinent, but it is if anything more troubling, for it derives from a foul attempt by Hamouri's supporters to to assert a moral equivalence between his case and that of Schalit. Any parallel is deeply offensive: Schalit was a conscripted soldier abducted from inside his own country; Haloumi was a leading member of an extremist terrorist organization. Schalit had done no harm. Hamouri planned a massacre.
Furthermore, it should be stressed that Schalit has spent over three years held incommunicado. There has been no sign of life from him in over two years. There is no information about the conditions of his captivity. The Red Cross has never visited him (- nor, unfortunately, made much of Hamas's refusal to permit its representatives to do so.) Schalit current mental and physical state remain unknown. All of this stands in stark contrast to Hamouri's treatment.
That the French president, admirably involved in efforts on Schalit's behalf, is now extending his intervention on behalf of Hamouri, suggests a mislaid moral compass. Schalit is being held to ransom by a terrorist group. Haloumi was scrupulously accorded every right of due process as a defendant prosecuted in Israel's autonomous judicial system.
Implicit in Sarkozy's appeal to Netanyahu is a subtext that suggests his incarceration is somehow unjust, if not illicit, and that our prime minister, like a Third World autocrat, can and should fix things - much as Kim Jong-il could spring two American journalists from North Korean prison at Bill Clinton's behest this week.
Also implicit in Sarkozy's appeal is the delegitimization of Israeli self-defense. France deplores Israeli military action, lest Palestinian noncombatants be harmed. Yet here it is attempting to undo pinpointed law-enforcement against a specific perpetrator of terrorism. How, according to Sarkozy, is Israel to defend itself?
WHEN SARKOZY first raised his request last year with Ehud Olmert, the then-prime minister, to his credit, ignored it. The Netanyahu administration, by contrast, is reported to be "studying" it. With all due respect to a friendly government and president, such study is more than this request deserves.