Netanyahu doesn't practice what he preaches on prisoners

Likud chief opposes releasing terrorists in principle, but has voted for past swaps.

Netanyahu pouts like a chimp 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Netanyahu pouts like a chimp 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu has been very careful not to express an opinion about whether Israel should release hundreds of Hamas terrorists in return for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit. Netanyahu's silence has led pundits to ponder whether he wanted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to complete a deal now so he would have a clean slate if he succeeded him as head of the next government. Other analysts have speculated that as part of his scare tactics against Hamas, Olmert might have sent them a message that they had better make a deal with him now before a tougher boss takes over and sets up a cabinet full of hawks. Amid Netanyahu's silence, there are two ways to check what he would do if he took over at the helm of the country and a deal for Schalit's release remained on the prime minister's desk awaiting an answer: Look at what he said in the past and at what he did. In his 1995 book, Fighting Terrorism, Netanyahu warned that exchanging prisoners for captives was "a mistake that Israel made over and over again" and wrote that refusing to release terrorists from prison was "among the most important policies that must be adopted in the face of terrorism." "The release of convicted terrorists before they have served their full sentences seems like an easy and tempting way of defusing blackmailed situations in which innocent people may lose their lives, but its utility is momentary at best," Netanyahu wrote. "Prisoner releases only embolden terrorists by giving them the feeling that even if they are caught, their punishment will be brief. Worse, by leading terrorists to think such demands are likely to be met, they encourage precisely the terrorist blackmail they are supposed to defuse." But Netanyahu has not always practiced what he preaches when it comes to prisoner releases. The most notable exception came on October 1, 1997, when as prime minister, he released Hamas mentor Sheikh Ahmed Yassin from jail in order to bring about the release of Israeli agents who had failed to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Jordan. Both as prime minister and finance minister, Netanyahu voted to release terrorists from jail on several occasions. But he made a point of insisting that none of the prisoners who were freed had "blood on their hands." In July 1996, prime minister Netanyahu gave Hizbullah 45 Shi'ite prisoners and more than 100 bodies of Hizbullah terrorists in exchange for the remains of IDF soldiers Yosef Fink and Rahamim Alsheik, who were ambushed in Lebanon in February 1986 and later died in captivity. Later in his tenure as prime minister, Netanyahu released 750 prisoners as part of the January 1997 Hebron Accord and 250 ahead of the Wye Plantation Agreement. None of the prisoners had blood on their hands. As finance minister in November 2003, Netanyahu voted to release 430 prisoners in return for the release of Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of IDF soldiers Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Sawayid. Netanyahu justified his vote by ensuring that no terrorists with blood on their hands would be released, but he absented himself from a final vote on the exchange two months later. Netanyahu also voted for two prisoner releases in July 2003 and one in February 2005. He voted against releasing prisoners in May 2005 as part of the accord reached in Sharm e-Sheikh between then-prime minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. "The Palestinians failed to act against the terrorist organizations, so I see no reason to give them a prize," Netanyahu said at the time.