West Bank Murder Arrest: A Reminder of Shalit Deal’s Price

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Palestinian prisoners cross to the southern Gaza Strip on October 18, 2011 upon their release from Israeli prisons under a deal to free abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.Credit: AFP / Haaretz archive

Sunday’s arrest of the suspected killers of Malachi Rosenfeld, who was murdered in a drive-by shooting near the West Bank settlement of Shvut Rachel last month, once again highlighted the ever-growing price of the 2011 prisoner exchange that freed kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

Almost four years after that deal, in which Israel freed 1,027 terrorists to get Shalit back, even those who supported it – primarily on the grounds that Israel had an obligation to its soldiers – are obliged to acknowledge its negative aspects. And it must be admitted that these weren’t unforeseen.

According to the Shin Bet security service, the person behind the terrorist cell that murdered Rosenfeld and wounded three other civilians, and also perpetrated two other shooting attacks in the Ramallah area, is Ahmed Najar. Najar is a Hamas operative who served eight years in an Israeli jail for involvement in the murder of six other Israelis before being freed in the Shalit deal. Under the terms of that deal, he was deported to Gaza rather than being allowed to return to the West Bank, but he later left Gaza for Jordan.

Nor is this the first time someone freed in the Shalit deal has returned to terror. Haaretz has reported before that Hamas’ West Bank terror network is now run mainly by other prisoners freed in that deal who were similarly deported to Gaza and are still based there.

For many senior members of Hamas’ military wing, and certainly for those who weren’t allowed to return to their homes in the West Bank, resuming terrorist activities is the obvious choice: After leaving jail, they return to doing what they were doing before, because that’s what they know best. But since the military wing is relatively weak in the West Bank and short of experienced commanders there, it now relies instead on former prisoners who were deported to Gaza but still have connections in the West Bank that they can use to revive terrorist activity there.

Second thoughts about Shalit agreement

In retrospect, some senior Israeli defense officials now believe that deporting senior terrorists was a mistake, because they can do more damage in their new bases – whether Gaza or countries like Turkey, Qatar and Jordan – than they could in the West Bank, under the watchful eyes of the Shin Bet and the Palestinian Authority security services.

The latter, despite their close coordination with Israel, have no qualms about preempting the Shin Bet if they can. That’s what happened in the Rosenfeld case: The person suspected of actually firing the gun that killed him, Maad Hamad, was arrested by the PA.

Hamad, a resident of Silwad, belongs to the same clan as Ibrahim Hamad, the former head of Hamas’ military wing in the West Bank who is now imprisoned in Israel. And given the current state of relations between the PA and Hamas, once can assume Maad Hamad will remain in jail for quite some time.

Nevertheless, the PA generally still refuses to complete the last link in the terror prevention chain, the one Israel has been demanding ever since the Oslo Accord was signed in 1993 – putting terrorists on trial. This is probably partly because attacks on settlers and soldiers enjoy widespread support among Palestinians in the West Bank.

The capture of Rosenfeld’s suspected killer is part of a broader campaign of arrests that the PA has been conducting against Hamas operatives in the West Bank. The Internet news site Walla reported Sunday that since the beginning of the month, the PA has arrested some 250 people suspected of belonging to Hamas’ military wing. Some are suspected of planning kidnappings or shooting attacks against Israelis, but in addition, some are suspected of planning attacks against senior PA officials.

A similar sweep, also stemming from suspicions that Hamas was plotting against the PA, took place in May 2014, significantly ratcheting up tensions between the PA and Hamas. The following month, Hamas operatives kidnaped and killed three Israeli teens, and the month after that, war broke out between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

It took the Shin Bet and the Israel Defense Forces about a month to solve both of last month’s murders in the West Bank – Rosenfeld’s and that of Danny Gonen near Dolev – and arrest the suspects. The two agencies have also arrested some suspects in recent vehicular and knife attacks that wounded Israelis. But these successes aren’t expected to deter either organized terrorist cells or lone-wolf terrorists from attempting further attacks.

There is no sign that West Bank Palestinians are currently in the mood for a broad popular uprising. But the pace of attacks has been fairly rapid recently, and there has also been a steady increase in the volume of Molotov cocktails and stone-throwing. These trends aren’t expected to change now that Ramadan is over, despite the recent indications of a slight thaw in diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

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