Don’t free Barghouti!

Does our having boosted Hamas’s prestige behoove us to even the scales and make concessions to Abbas as well?

Jailed Fatah member Marwan Barghouti 311 (photo credit: Oleg Popov / Reuters)
Jailed Fatah member Marwan Barghouti 311
(photo credit: Oleg Popov / Reuters)
Didn’t Israel release enough terrorists to secure Gilad Schalit’s freedom? Some among us aver that more terrorists should be let loose, this time without linkage to an emotional plea for one abducted soldier’s life.
Thus former Labor leader and ex-defense minister Amir Peretz clamors for the unconditional release of convicted murderer Marwan Barghouti, one-time commander of the Fatah militia Tanzim and now doing five life terms and another 40 years for attempted homicide.
Barghouti was found guilty by a civilian court on May 20, 2004, on five counts of murder, including commissioning and organizing the attack on Tel Aviv’s Seafood Market restaurant, where three guests partaking in a bachelorette party were shot to death. Yet inexplicably, Barghouti boasts Israeli fans, who tirelessly advocate his release on the unsubstantiated grounds that he alone can revive the moribund peace process.
Peretz told Israel Radio last week that freeing Barghouti would strengthen Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah regime in Ramallah and facilitate agreements with it. He’s not alone.
Additionally, it’s proposed that Israel unilaterally lift the Gaza blockade and simultaneously release hundreds of convicted Fatah terrorists to reimburse Abbas for the prestige boost that the Schalit deal accorded Hamas. The logic is that if Hamas succeeded to spring its prisoners via abduction, Abbas cannot be seen as getting less because he does not resort to hostage-taking.
Abbas claims this is his due, per a promise purportedly made by ex-premier Ehud Olmert to give him more prisoners than Hamas wins for Schalit.
The fact that there’s nothing signed hardly seems to bother Abbas. But we should be bothered. Jerusalem must make it crystal clear to Ramallah that uncorroborated and unconcluded deals aren’t binding (regardless of what Olmert may or may not have intimated).
Moreover, Abbas’s Palestinian Authority has failed to live up to the most crucial components of signed deals. Barghouti, Ahmed Sa’dat (organizer of the Rehav’am Ze’evi 2001 assassination) and others are in custody because they had violently violated signed agreements.
What differentiates the PA from Hamas isn’t fundamentally contradictory strategic aims but somewhat divergent tactics and degrees of vehemence. It’s instructive to note that Abbas more than tripled the $2,000 granted by Hamas to each convict released for Schalit. Abbas’s gift is $5,000 each.
Under Abbas’s aegis terrorists – past and present – are revered and feted. His official media, educational system and mosque preachers effuse paeans of praise for terrorists lionized as heroes.
Examples abound. The Ramallah street that houses the new presidential compound was named for arch-terrorist Yahya Ayash, who gained notoriety in the mid-1990s as the “engineer.” His professional specialty was rigging explosives designed to take as many lives as possible. Primarily Ayash was an anti-Oslo saboteur, a fact that makes it doubly strange that the PA, born of the Oslo Accords, would even consider commemorating Ayash in what constitutes an affront to the very notion of coexistence and a gross violation of the Oslo premise.
But this is emblematic of the cynical discrepancy Abbas keenly promotes. On the one hand, sounded for foreign ears, are his half-hearted condemnations of terrorism (not as morally repugnant but as counterproductive to Palestinian interests), while simultaneously, for domestic consumption, his regime assiduously glorifies terrorists, imparting the impression that terrorist crimes are the PA ideal.
This is the conjoined twin of incitement – the streets named after terrorists, the honors bestowed on them, the school hours devoted to them, the televised indoctrination that portrays them as martyrs, the agitation to release convicted mass-murderers. Any of these inherently contradicts Oslo’s terms and the aims of any peace process.
Does our having boosted Hamas’s prestige behoove us to even the scales and make concessions to Abbas as well? Having gotten a raw deal once, are we obliged to voluntarily submit to further punishment? Does Abbas deserve compensation for not kidnapping Schalit? Similarly, is the Gaza blockade superfluous following Schalit’s release? Has the danger of rocket barrages and terrorist attacks from Gaza diminished? Was Schalit the sum total of our security worries? Need Hamas be rewarded with further triumphs for its aggression? Are we obliged to placate our enemies?