The list of terrorists Hamas wants released in a deal for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit has not been published, but it already has stirred up a storm. There are many questions. For example, are the murderers of minister Rehavam Ze'evi are on the list? How about the masterminds behind the suicide bombing at the Park Hotel in Netanya? What about those behind the Sbarro restaurant attack in Jerusalem? Or the rest of the tragic milestones in the war between Israel and the Palestinians? With excessive fastidiousness, some cabinet members, most of them on the right, are trying to set criteria to determine whether it is permissible to release a given prisoner.
The amount of blood the terrorists have spilled, or the danger of future terrorist attacks inherent in their release, are among the main criteria. The logic of these considerations is questionable, but it seems that at least regarding one prisoner, Fatah's Marwan Barghouti, the foolishness is particularly apparent.
Barghouti is considered a Palestinian leader. Before he moved on to subversive activities and running a terrorist cell, he was a peace activist and sought to hold meetings between Israelis and Palestinians. He considered the Oslo Accords the basis for dialogue. From his cell he developed, along with Hamas leaders, the Palestinian Prisoners' Document and has not abandoned diplomatic discourse. Anyone who thinks that keeping him behind bars will contain his political power and standing is welcome to learn from South Africa, which imprisoned Nelson Mandela for decades only to see him become president.
It is not Israel's role to do the Palestinians' political math and evaluate the implications of Barghouti's release on the Palestinian leadership, especially President Mahmoud Abbas. Also, the question of whether his release will bolster the already powerful Hamas or revive the Palestine Liberation Organization are not considerations relevant to an exchange deal.
After all, Barghouti, who managed political affairs from behind prison walls, could have also managed terrorists if he wanted to. Even if we accept the argument that Barghouti is a dangerous terrorist, he is certainly not the worst of the murderers to be released in an exchange. And the chance he will be able to move the diplomatic process forward overshadows the value of keeping him behind bars. This would be a consideration for releasing Barghouti long ago. Now the Israeli government must release him as part of the Shalit deal.
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