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It is not difficult to understand the agonizing decision facing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet ministers. It would be very hard to accept a negative decision on their part. Gilad Shalit must be freed at any cost, all the more so because the actual cost is lower than the one bandied about by those who oppose the release.

We're dealing with the release of hundreds of Palestinians, about one-tenth of the Palestinians in prison. Some of them are political prisoners for all intents and purposes; some are women and youths.

The most murderous of them have, for the most part, already served long sentences. The overwhelming majority of them will not return to terrorist activity; rather they will want to spend the remainder of their life in freedom.

Yes, there will be more and more terrorists in the future, with or without the hundreds of released prisoners, if the occupation and abuse of the Palestinian people continues. This is the real infrastructure of terror, and it does not depend on those who will be released in the deal.

One generation of Palestinians after another will fight in its own way for its liberty and breed more and more terrorists. The only really effective way to reduce terror, if not to prevent it altogether, is to stop its operating engine - the occupation.

Whether Mohamed, Ahmad and Marwan are released or not, whether they are exiled are not, the extent of danger expected from our neighbors will continue to depend on the entire Palestinian nation's liberty, not on the freedom of nearly 1,000 people.

Of all the arguments against releasing them, the most fallacious one is the "loss of deterrence." Even after implementing the deal the Palestinians will do everything they can to capture more soldiers. Israel has taught them, after all, that this is the only way to get their imprisoned brethren freed.

Just as Israels' tough stance in the Ron Arad affair failed to prevent the capture of additional soldiers, so Israeli stubbornness in the Shalit affair will fail to prevent abductions. If Israel was not holding 10,000 prisoners, some of whom are serving disproportionate sentences and have no hope of ever getting out but by violent means, the Palestinians' motivation for capturing more soldiers would diminish.

Whether Israel decides to sign the deal or not, it will not change anything except the personal fate of Gilad Shalit and the Palestinian prisoners. This is the only issue on the agenda, not Israel's security or its sovereignty.

The dilemma is razor sharp - do we or do we not want to see Shalit home; alive or dead, to be or not to be, that is the only question. This is why the government must decide in favor of the deal.

It's difficult to demand that the Israelis occupied with Shalit's captivity show consideration for the Palestinians' feelings as well. But they should do so, or at least try.

Hundreds of prisoners have been locked up for years in dire conditions, some - those from Gaza - have been imprisoned for years with no family visits, not a phone call home.

And not all of them have blood on their hands. At least the possibility of their release should have raised compassion in our hearts as well, as groundless and shrill as this may sound to the obtuse Israeli ear.

It is no coincidence that only the Palestinian prisoners' families have expressed hope for Shalit's release, beside the hope for their own sons' release. How distressing that we hear no similar sentiment from anyone on our side, not even the Shalit family.

But Shalit and the Palestinian prisoners are not alone. Seven million Israelis and three and a half million Palestinians have been imprisoned for 42 years in a dark cave due to the curse of occupation. Had the turbulent Israeli temper, so impressively mobilized in the campaign to free Shalit, been recruited in a similar way for the struggle to end the occupation and free both Palestinians and Israelis from its yoke, things would already be different.

In view of the huge (and appropriate) sensitivity and concern demonstrated by Israeli society for one man's life and liberty, it's time to think of applying similar sensitivity, determination, involvement and caring in regard to the fate of 10 million Israelis and Palestinians. True, they see the light of day, but their future is cloaked in darkness.

The same intensive negotiations, the same public pressure, the same flyovers, races, balloons, petitions, bills, stickers and demonstrations, the same protest tents and the same demonstrations against the ongoing occupation would have got us long ago to a safe shore, one that would prevent more Gilad Shalits. But first Shalit must be released, and today.