With the return to the negotiation table comes the Pavlovian demand for the
release of Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons. This is wrong. Beyond
the injustice, such policies have proven counterproductive to peace. It seems
that time and again the release of terrorists leads to more
Examples are in abundance: Terrorists released in 1985 in return
for abducted solders formed the foundation for the first intifada in 1987.
Inmates released as part of confidence-building measures during the Oslo process
returned to terror and took part in, among other things, the 2000
Even a number of those recently released in the Schalit swap
have returned to terror. Hundreds of innocent lives have been lost, and families
All this is common knowledge and no one knows these facts
better than Israel’s prime minister. But after years of trying to kick-start a
stagnant peace process, the “no choice” claim sets the tone. There is, however,
an alternative to a carte-blanche release – an alternative that may increase the
prospects for peace.
In contrast to common conception, Israel is not
alone in confronting terrorism and dealing with radical inmates that eventually
return to society. With the goal of finding a formula for deradicalization, a
recent comparative study led by Kings College London reviewed the experience of
15 terror-riddled countries. Scholars from each country were asked to review and
analyze the deradicalization programs of their respective homelands.
programs have failed – but one has succeeded. It turns out that the
deradicalization of terrorists may be feasible.
Singapore, for example,
has been able to apply a deradicalization program, directed by Dr. Rohan
Gunaratna, that has reportedly rehabilitated dozens of dangerous Jama’ah
Islamiya terrorists. Of the 60 Jama’ah Islamiya inmates that participated in
Singapore’s deradicalization program, 40 were deemed fit for release. None have
returned to terror.
One of the pillars of the program is to hold
conversations and debates between moderate clergy, Islamic scholars and inmates
in an effort to persuade prisoners that the religious justification for their
actions is wrong and based upon a distorted understanding of Islam.
such a program to work with Palestinian prisoners who were subjected to years of
incitement and hate against Israel, it would need to be applied in a neutral
setting. Palestinian prisoners would need to be removed from the local
Putting these security inmates into a Singapore-style program
outside the Middle East would surely present countless logistic and operational
challenges that would be difficult to overcome. The alternative of unconditional
release however, is unacceptable.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu,
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and anyone else truly interested
in furthering the peace process should adopt this agenda and insist that
security inmates take part in such a program prior to release. The international
community should sponsor the program, giving the Europeans a chance to
If the sides want to enhance the hope of a
durable peace they should adopt Singapore’s deradicalization model and insist on
complete deradicalization of Palestinian inmates before any release.
final-status peace negotiations will need to solve paramount matters; Jerusalem,
demarcation of borders, full recognition of Israel as the Jewish state, the
Palestinian demand of return and many more complex concerns.
differences may be irreconcilable, but the deradicalization of convicted
terrorists is a common objective for all peace pursuers, and can serve as a true
building block to solve issues that seem unsolvable.
It is in the best
interest for anyone interested in peace that released prisoners be productive
citizens rather than destructive combatants. For the prospect of peace, give
deradicalization a chance.
Ophir Falk is a PhD candidate at the
University of Haifa and a Research Fellow at the International Institute for
Counter-Terrorism (ICT), and Dr. Boaz Ganor is the founder and executive
director of the ICT and the deputy dean of the Lauder School of Government,
Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya.