Clearing out the jails
For many years, and especially as head of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, Brigadier General Ilan Paz earned a living hunting down and jailing Palestinians. He has spent this last year, however, with two released prisoners: Fatah leaders Hisham Abd al-Razeq, Fatah's former minister of prisoner affairs, and Ibrahim Salameh, a former adviser to the Palestinian interior minister. This July, the group, which includes two other retired Israeli security officials, released their own "prisoners document," entitled "Gradual Working Plan for the Release of Palestinian Prisoners, as an Incentive for Achieving and Maintaining a Cease-Fire."
The plan has 16 sections, which list steps for the gradual release of all prisoners jailed in Israel. It was prepared under the auspices of a well-known Israeli research institute that maintains close ties with the security establishment, and was recently presented to the senior political leadership in Israel and the West Bank, including the Prime Minister's Bureau and the Muqata in Ramallah. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas "responded favorably" al-Razeq said yesterday; Paz said the Israelis showed interest, too. Salameh says the Hamas leadership in the West Bank also was in on the matter, but "the revolution" in Gaza took them out of the game. The authors hope their work will influence members of the ministers forum led by Haim Ramon, which is discussing softening the terms for releasing security prisoners "with blood on their hands."
That term, by the way, incensed al-Razeq: "And you have henna on your hands?" he asked, speaking the Hebrew of a veteran of an Israeli jail. "The time has come for you to stop playing the role of victim. We weren't playing marbles. The prisoners are part of a bitter struggle between two peoples. You should learn from the experience of South Africa and North Ireland - these people are the key to a cease-fire."
The document notes that even according to the figures that Zeev Boim, then deputy defense minister, presented to the Knesset on August 6, 2003, 87 percent of the 6,912 prisoners released over the years did not resume terrorist activities and were not jailed again.
Currently, there are more than 10,000 security prisoners and detainees in Israeli jails.
The document attempts to bridge the gap between how Israeli society perceives people involved in terrorist attacks, and how Palestinian society perceives them - as freedom fighters. The Palestinians consider themselves obliged to do everything to release the prisoners, whereas the Israeli authorities see them as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the Palestinian leadership. The result: the prisoner issue remains outside the political "give and take." Therefore, Israel is missing out on a powerful means of pressure that crosses political and religious borders in Palestinian society, whereas Palestinians are increasingly feeling that the only way to free prisoners is by kidnapping Israeli soldiers or citizens to use as bargaining chips.
The document's authors say that getting the prisoners' leadership involved, including Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, can help the unofficial, preliminary dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians over the principles of the plan, and can help sell it to the West Bank population. The prisoners' leaders would sign the plan and commit to upholding its principles.
"There currently is no official or semi-official body that is acceptable to the entire Palestinian public the way the jailed prisoners' leadership is," wrote the plan's authors.
The document notes that in jail, the prisoners absorb the values of democracy and learn history and the Hebrew language. Released prisoners like Jibril Rajoub, Mohammed Dahlan, Al-Razeq and Fares Qadura became key agents of change in Palestinian society, and played a central role in the dialogue and security coordination with Israel.
"The plan's objective is to shatter conventions to improve the prevailing atmosphere between Israel and the Palestinians," wrote the team. "Releasing prisoners would serve as long-term leverage for changing the security situation in the territories and create a comfortable environment for negotiations." The plan also is designed to reduce the motivation for kidnapping Israelis as bargaining chips. It should be noted that the proposal is not related to the Gilad Shalit deal - it relates to the day after.
These are the principles of the joint document:
b Prisoners addressed: Security and administrative detainees.
b Eligible for release: Only prisoners who are members of organizations that signed the cease-fire agreement.
b Implementation: The first round of releases will take place immediately once the plan begins. The last round will be when the parties sign a peace agreement.
b Graduated steps: Initially administrative detainees, women (not including those serving life terms), minors, the ill, the elderly, and prisoners in jail since before Oslo will be released. During the first year of the plan, all of the remaining prisoners who do not have "blood on their hands" will be released. Starting the second year, and until a permanent agreement is signed, those with "blood on their hands" will be released under two provisos: that they have not been sentenced to a life term, and have served at least a third of their sentence. After a permanent status agreement is signed, all prisoners with life sentences and those imprisoned twice for committing a terrorist act will be released. After all these steps have been completed, and a peace agreement has been signed between the parties, no Palestinian administrative or security prisoners will remain in Israeli jails.
b Pre-Oslo prisoners: The Israeli side understands the Palestinian sensitivity regarding the release of prisoners in jail since before the Oslo Agreement, and will set up an joint Israeli-Palestinian committee to review the pace of their release.
b Transparency: Advance notice of which prisoners will be released will help the Palestinians uphold their commitments under the cease-fire.
b Detainees: Those who have not been indicted will be tried and released. Detainees not scheduled for trial will be released immediately. Administrative detainees will be released in the first round of prisoner releases.
b Oversight and coordination: The Palestinian Authority will take action against anyone trying to undermine the cease-fire. The Palestinian side understands that if there is violence against Israel, the plan may be suspended, postponed or even halted.
b Geographic location: Consideration must be given to where prisoners are released. Prisoners will not be released to areas where the peace-fire is being violated, but rather where residents have been quiet.
One more injustice
At the meeting of the ministerial committee charged with implementing the outposts report two weeks ago, Committee Chairman Haim Ramon and report author Attorney Talia Sasson had an interesting conversation.
Vice Premier Ramon, who advocates an "voluntary evacuation-compensation" bill for residents in the heart of Judea and Samaria, asked what was preventing the government from approving new construction adjacent to existing communities. Those present wondered whether he did not say this in order to appease fellow committee member Avigdor Lieberman. Ramon cited as an example the veteran community of Ofra, in the Benjamin region.
Sasson applauded him: "Ofra is an excellent example - an example of a settlement that largely sits on private Palestinian land."
When it comes to illegal construction on privately owned land, even Otniel Shneller, Ramon's settler colleague in Kadima, uses the term "theft." Sasson even stated that a Justice Ministry document prepared for then-minister Ramon a year ago did not mention the issue of outposts built on private land.
If the government succeeds in passing the voluntary evacuation-compensation bill, it will be required to address the matter of "land theft." Israeli law, which has suffered for 40 years from injustices due to the settlements, will have to suffer one more. Two days ago, Haaretz reported that the Sasson report is one of the reasons why the attorney general rejected the request of several outposts to hold separate elections for community committees and representation to the Jewish regional councils in Judea and Samaria. One result was that the Tal Menashe outpost "took" the leadership of the neighboring community of Hinanit.
Several outposts are now planning to use the Sasson report - which was meant to serve as leverage for their evacuation - as a tool for legalization. The report tells how over the years, Israeli governments not only ignored the use of private lands; the enforcement authorities, led by the Defense Ministry and the attorney generals, did not halt the flow of money and looked the other way as they were connected to infrastructures. This policy continues to this day, almost three years after the government adopted the report's principles. Like the "evacuation-compensation" for Gaza Strip residents, in the West Bank as well, the Israeli taxpayer will have to pay the price when the day comes.
Ramon's office responded, "The position he presented during the committee meeting is that construction in Judea and Samaria must be done in accordance with government policy and international commitments, and that because of this position, he is under sharp attack from the settlers. The minister affirms that the discussions will be objective and without preconceptions, with the participation of representatives from across the spectrum, including Peace Now and the Yesha Council of settlements in Judea and Samaria. The committee is formulating its conclusions, and it is inappropriate to speculate on its results based on comments during the course of the discussions."