Articles

A ‘terrorists for prisoner’ swap will only encourage more violence

01 January 2010

Published in The Jewish News: 1st January 2010

Ever since his abduction in June 2006, Israelis have yearned for the return of Gilad Schalit. For over three years this young man has been held without access to the Red Cross, a clear violation of international humanitarian law. In recent weeks, there has been fevered speculation about an imminent deal involving the release of nearly 1,000 Hamas prisoners from Israeli jails, a policy that has the apparent backing of a strong majority in Israel. Yet while Israel faces a gruesome dilemma, this policy is a tragic blunder.

For starters, it will rejuvenate the Hamas leadership whose genocidal desire to eradicate the Jewish state will hardly be assuaged. This is likely to be the case even if, as expected, Marwan Barghouti is one of those released. They will likely treat their prisoners as returning heroes, offering them the kind of glamorous reception that was showered on the unrepentant child killer, Samir Quntar. This is bad news for Israel but a massive boon to Iran and the jihadist movement worldwide.

Furthermore, this asymmetric ‘terrorists for prisoner’ swap will only bolster Hamas’ determination to kidnap more Israelis in the certain knowledge that such actions will bring handsome dividends. Huge numbers of new recruits will reinforce the already swollen ranks of Palestinian terror, exacting untold harm on innocent Israelis.

Anyone doubting this should look very carefully at the facts on prisoner exchanges. Since 1985 over 10,000 Palestinian prisoners serving time for hostile activities or terror actions have been released from Israeli jails, usually in the context of prisoner swaps. According to the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, ‘about 50 percent of the terrorists freed returned to the path of terror, either as a perpetrator, planner or accomplice.’

No deal can be justified when it creates a greater danger to civilians in the long run or when it incentivises further acts of hostage taking. Yet this is the awful form of 'moral hazard' that Israel must confront. By signalling her desire to meet Hamas’ unreasonable demands, Israel’s deterrent strength is being eroded.

Supporters of this deal usually respond with the same question: How could any Israeli Prime Minister look the Schalit parents in the eye and tell them that their son was not coming home? But there are surely more pressing questions to consider. How could that same Prime Minister justify to bereaved parents the premature release of the blood-thirsty terrorist who had murdered their child? How could those parents possibly believe that justice had been served by such a decision? Furthermore how could that Prime Minister justify to future victims of terror a decision to release more cold hearted killers whose raison d’etre was to murder Jews?

Israeli leaders have been facing just this dilemma for nearly 30 years, reflecting a generational shift in strategic thinking. For in the 1970s, such deals with terrorists would have been seen as unconscionable. During this decade, the world was transfixed by a global campaign of Palestinian terror. Aeroplanes were hijacked, synagogues were bombed and city centres became scenes of carnage and bloodshed.

Yet in the face of this murderous onslaught, Europe’s governments retreated into spineless appeasement, releasing Palestinian murderers in return for empty promises that their own nationals would be spared. Naturally, a succession of Israeli governments condemned this craven diplomacy, believing it would create incentives for further terror. They were proved right as the spate of kidnappings and hostage incidents only increased. But throughout the 1980s and 1990s they changed tack, releasing thousands of Palestinian prisoners for their own captured soldiers, or the remains of those soldiers. The baleful consequences are there for all to see.

Israel certainly has a responsibility to all its soldiers, especially those who are facing captivity. But it has an even greater responsibility not to put its other citizens in harm’s way. One must never countenance ‘any’ price for the return of hostages.

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Quotes

"...there is no equivalence between the targeting of terrorists and the indiscriminate slaughter of non combatants..." (Yassin - Jewish Chronicle)

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