pal prisoners praying 248 88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Israeli government seems to have already agreed to release over 1,000 terrorists in exchange for Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier abducted in June 2006. It is now negotiating with the new Hamas-led Palestinian government over the identity of the Palestinian terrorists to be included in the deal. While the moral obligation is to bring Shalit home, this duty is limited by other significant moral and utilitarian considerations.
Releasing terrorists prematurely encourages additional acts of terror. Palestinian terrorists learn time and again that the risk of a long jail term is minimal as long as their comrades are successful in abducting an Israeli citizen. Sending terrorists home before the end of their prison terms undermines the retribution dimension of a justice system.
Moreover, Israeli prisons fail to rehabilitate the Palestinians and to reeducate them into peace-loving neighbors. Statistics show that almost 50 percent of the released terrorists return to their old habits of trying to kill and maim Israeli civilians. Releasing terrorists and thereby endangering the lives of additional Israelis is unequivocally immoral.
On top of that, the planned deal with the Palestinians is also a slap in the face to the families of murdered Israelis at the hands of the Palestinians. While severe punishment is no consolation to the bereaved, the joy of the murderers and their well advertised victory signs renew the pain and agony. This undermines the resilience of Israeli society in its long struggle against terror.
THE NEGOTIATIONS and planned release of terrorists will strengthen the new Palestinian government, which is dominated by Hamas. Any moderates in the Palestinian leadership will be weakened, while Hamas, which has done poorly in governing the Palestinians, will be strengthened by demonstrating that it is helping the return of the imprisoned Palestinians. The deal will boost Palestinian morale and will inject a dose of domestic support to the Islamist dominated government. In addition, the deal with Israel will allow the new Palestinian government, which refuses to recognize the Jewish State, to further erode the international isolation that had been imposed on the previous government by the international community.
Negotiations with the Palestinian government over the discharge of terrorists from jail sends the wrong message. It is hard to believe that a country that was successful in saving Jewish hostages from Entebbe, thousands of kilometers away, is giving in to blackmail by bandits located just a few kilometers from Israel's border. Most Israelis view this as humiliating, and will probably support a courageous government determined to put an end to past misguided policies and to say no to Palestinian blackmail. This conveys an important signal to all terrorist groups planning to kidnap Israelis.
THE SOLUTION is not a prisoner swap, but military action in Gaza. The need for a large-scale operation has been evident for some time. Gaza was spared the treatment the West Bank received in the April 2002 Defensive Shield Operation, which significantly reduced Palestinian capabilities to harm Israel. The unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in the fall of 2005 created even better conditions for terrorists to attack Israel. Palestinians capabilities are augmented daily by an influx of arms and advanced technologies, which they will have more of a chance or receiving with increased international support. The Kassam range has been steadily extended and more tunnels have been dug, putting a greater number of Israelis in danger. Additionally, after the botched Second Lebanese War, Hamas and other militias in Gaza are trying to emulate the Hizbullah, and believe they have a chance to defeat the IDF.
The lesson learned in Lebanon is that inaction over time is dangerous and costly. The sooner the IDF deals with the burgeoning Palestinian military capabilities the better. A permanent reoccupation of Gaza is not necessary, simply a large-scale attack to clean the Gaza Strip of current hostile capabilities, to be followed by intermittent military forays. Such actions may exact a cost from Israel that will in all probability be lower than the price for a much delayed operation. Israel's overall security will be better served by preempting forcefully now in Gaza than by waiting.
Operations in Gaza are also necessary in order to complicate the life of the new Palestinian government and to prevent its entrenchment. More importantly, a military success would restore a modicum of deterrence, in order to show the Palestinians and other radicals in the Middle East that the events of summer 2006 represented temporary failures and that the IDF is still an effective force. Offering over 1,000 Palestinians in exchange for one Israeli soldier is not the way to go.
The writer is professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies.