Palestinian prisoners, Jenin, Shalit swap deal
Palestinians marching in Jenin in solidarity with prisoners, Oct. 13, 2011. Photo by AP
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Does anyone really think that peace can be reached while thousands of Palestinian prisoners rot away in jail? In the past, the insistence on keeping a "souvenir" from Lebanon after Israel's retreat caused three soldiers to be kidnapped, and the insistence on keeping more prisoners in jail during talks for the soldiers' release triggered another kidnapping and war. If in May 2000 all the residue of the cursed Lebanese war had been dealt with, thousands of lives could have been saved.

I regret that in these days of celebration, when the bells of freedom ring in many hearts on both sides, I feel obliged to discuss these questions. But I see no choice when faced with the grinding teeth and clenched jaws of tormented analysts and security hawks, whose world crumbles upon any hint of compromise between the two peoples. And their prophecies of doom only deepen the agony of victims' families and stoke a desire for revenge among the public.

Again the flag is raised, worn out by cynical use, against the release of prisoners with "blood on their hands," as if the tens of thousands of Palestinians killed on the fields of the terrible conflict have no murderers whose hands drip with blood. Well, sirs, in this war make sure never to be a Palestinian victim, for you will never have a murderer to call your own. And try never to be an Israeli victim, for your obsessive revengers will bring yet more ruin to the region, including your own people.

What will those Palestinians do who can't enjoy the luxury of what is called "settling accounts" with their sons' and daughters' murderers? On the Palestinian side, as opposed to the Israeli side, they have no soldiers in enemy dress to drag murderers from their beds, they have no investigators, stool pigeons and lawyers. They don't even have prisons. So who will settle accounts, for example, with the murderers of 1,211 children killed in the second intifada; who will settle accounts with the murderers of the daughters of Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish in Gaza? But why go so far afield? Who will settle accounts with the murderers of Asil Asala from Arabeh, an Israeli citizen murdered in his village's olive grove in October 2000?

The poet Taha Muhammad Ali said of the Palestinian that "his rights are a grain of salt dropped in the ocean." If Levi Eshkol had, as he said, an "open notebook and a recording hand," then the Palestinians, as far as notebooks go, have a thick volume. And if it is accounts we're talking about, shouldn't accounts be settled with former U.S. President George W. Bush, who went to war in Iraq, incurring tens of thousands of victims, based on false premises? And shouldn't accounts be settled with then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, who dangled "evidence" in front of the entire world at the United Nations "proving" that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, yet to be discovered on the ground?

In the meantime, while the desire for revenge calls out from every television screen, please get ready for the next deal: Closely guard Israel's national treasure - its Palestinian prisoners - so cruelly reduced in the latest dilution. And guard every soldier, lest he be kidnapped, and guard the guards. And wait for the next power struggle.

This isn't the way to peace or preventing the next round of violence. It's high time we change the disk and recognize that revenge is neither ethical nor worthwhile since it's a double-edged sword. It's time to get to know a different and beautiful creature called reconciliation, a kind of bridge of hope over the rivers of blood; to recognize that the enemy, whether Arab or Jew, is also endowed with a beating human heart and also has sons who wait and mothers who worry, in the words of Taha Muhammad Ali. And most importantly, we must realize that the distance between revenge and reconciliation is the same as that between war and peace.