Oh, what disappointment the prime minister suffered from the list of prisoners that Hamas submitted as the quid pro quo for the release of Gilad Shalit. Senior terrorists, leaders, a list dripping with blood that is totally out of the question. If Hamas had given this a bit more thought and more consideration for the prime minister's political plight, and perhaps had lowered the number from 1,400 to only 1,100, and had agreed to return to the terms of last June, which called for the release of only women and children and a few old men, it would have been possible to close a deal.
But now we need to again mobilize the worn out arguments to explain why there is no deal - for example, the demagogic argument that the release of prisoners, with or without blood on their hands, in exchange for Israeli captives, is liable to revitalize the Palestinian national resistance, add new terrorists to the ranks (that have never emptied), or precipitate a new escalation in the territories.
During the 40 years of the occupation, hundreds of thousands of prisoners and detainees have entered and exited Israeli prisons. Some of them were released after serving prison terms, and others after administrative detention or as a result of various legal deals. Some of them returned to hostile activity and some did not. Some of those still sitting in prison continue to function as political leaders. Thus, for example, the Prisoners' Document and the dialogue between Hamas and Fatah were conducted in collaboration with prisoners and even under their direction. Other prisoners also orchestrate terror activities from prison and manage their organizations. New wanted men have long since replaced those who were arrested or liquidated by Israel.
Those who are enraged by the large number of prisoners slated to be liberated can also relax. On any given day, Israel arrests several dozen Palestinians. At any given time, several thousand prisoners and detainees are sitting in prisons. At any moment, with almost no judicial review, Israel can arrest as many civilians as it wishes and interrogate them. The supply of potential arrestees or, if you wish, "merchandise for exchange," is inexhaustible.
The release of prisoners has always served as a type of political merchandise as well. Once it was the release of prisoners in honor of the holidays, and another time it was a gesture toward a Palestinian leader or part of diplomatic negotiations. But those who do not want to engage in comprehensive peace talks (which could potentially eliminate the need for abductions and arrests) must now engage in haggling over the amount of blood on the prisoner's hands. Indeed, there is great emotional difficulty in releasing murderers, but there is even greater difficulty in giving up on three living soldiers because of this.
To overcome this greater difficulty, the opponents of the release wrap themselves in the contention - which is no less vacuous than its predecessors - that an abductee or captive should not be made into a strategic asset in the hands of the enemy, who would then seek to extort more and more concessions in exchange. And that the state should not drop to its knees before the abductors. According to this logic, a dead soldier is preferable to a captured or abducted one, who endangers the state's prestige.
In other words, it is best and even obligatory to forget the abductees to deprive the abductors of the value of their merchandise. This argument makes irrelevant the particular crime perpetrated by the prisoners, since surrender to extortion, in any case, is out of the question. The main culprits are the government, which is prepared to compromise; the commanders who failed to protect their soldiers; or better yet, the soldiers themselves, who did not manage to get killed instead of embarrassing the state and denying it its self-righteousness. One can indeed wonder what "humiliates" the state more, the effort to liberate its abductees or "the steadfast standing" vis-a-vis a list that could be sold to the public - after all, the deal is inevitable.
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