A Senseless Release of Murderers

Israel’s release this week of 26 Arab murderers to their homes in Yehudah, Shomron and Gaza is infuriating for many reasons.

First, no other country in the world would implement a wholesale release of murderers of its citizens before they had served their time. Israel’s actions make a mockery of the security forces that apprehended these terrorists, at great risk to their lives, and of a judicial system that carefully weighed the evidence and issued its verdict. Most importantly, it reopens the wounds of the families of the terror victims, who weren’t even notified in advance of the planned releases.

Second, 20 of the prisoners are being released to their homes in Yehudah and Shomron. It defies logic that murderers of Jews should be released to Ramallah, next door to Beit El and Psagot, and a 20-minute drive from Yerushalayim. In the last terrorist release, the one that saw IDF soldier Gilad Shalit freed in exchange for 1,027 prisoners, the government at least insisted that all the murderers be sent to Gaza or abroad.

Third, the premise that the way to advance the “peace process” is to release killers is fundamentally flawed. It’s one thing for Israel to allow more Palestinians to work in its major cities and bring home an income for their families, but to free murderers who will be hailed as heroes? What kind of “peace” would that advance?

(True, enemies routinely exchange prisoners, but that’s after a peace deal has been signed.)

The problem is that Israel is bound by an agreement it made in August to release a total of 104 murderers, in four installments, as a gesture to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. As unwise as that decision may be, Israel can hardly afford to back out now, even though, by all accounts, there has been no progress in the talks and the Palestinians appear to be stalling for time. They’ll keep showing up in order to get the next two shipments, but don’t expect any real progress.

Most infuriating that Israel was once a world leader in standing up to terrorists and refusing to negotiate prisoner releases.

Does anyone remember why it was necessary to send IDF forces to Entebbe to rescue more than 100 hostages in July 1976? Because Israel refused to release 40 terrorists (the captors wanted another 13 terrorists being held by West Germany, Switzerland, France and Kenya).

For 40 terrorists — little more than a third of what Israel is giving up for the privilege of holding talks with the Palestinians — the IDF risked the lives of 100 commandos, and sacrificed the leader of the mission, Yoni Netanyahu, Hy”d, the prime minister’s brother.

The refusal to negotiate with terrorists was based on an understanding that once you give in once, you’ll have to give in again and again. Free 40 terrorists today for 100 hostages and you’ll be freeing 1,000 for one, and that’s exactly what has happened.

In 1985, in the infamous Jibril exchange, Israel gave up 1,250 prisoners for three captured IDF soldiers. In 2011, it gave up 1,027 prisoners, including 280 who were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating terror attacks, in exchange for one soldier, Gilad Shalit.

And now, in an all-time low, it is giving up 104 murderers to get PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas to suspend his unilateral efforts to gain recognition in the United Nations and agree to negotiate.

After the prisoner exchange that led to Shalit’s release, there was recognition among Cabinet ministers that going forward, a new approach was needed. “I’m happy about the deal on the exchange for Gilad Shalit, but we must set new rules,” then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Yisrael Hayom, adding Israel should draft rules that were in keeping with the policy adopted by other Western nations.

Even Tzipi Livni, who now heads the negotiations with the Palestinians and is the biggest backer of the current prisoner release, understood that the Shalit deal would have grave ramifications. “The whole world understands that Hamas has been strengthened and Israel must now act to retrieve its deterrence capability,” she said.

A committee headed by former Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar, which had been drafting proposals on how the government should handle prisoner exchanges, speeded up its work and presented its recommendations in January 2012.

The report called on the government to toughen its stance against terrorist groups in the event of future abductions. “We didn’t only discuss the question of how to conduct negotiations over prison swaps, but also the question over whether to hold negotiations at all,” Shamgar was quoted by Army Radio as saying.

Nearly two years have passed since the Shamgar Committee submitted its recommendations to the government. According to Maj. Gen. Amos Yaron, a committee members, the government hasn’t held even one serious discussion on its findings.

It may be too late for the government to back out of the current series of outrageous, immoral prisoner releases. But it isn’t too late to hold a series of meetings on the Shamgar findings and adopt sensible guidelines that are binding on this government and those that follow.