Charging of Released Hamas Activist Ups Heat on PM

The revelation that a prisoner released in the Shalit deal murdered police officer Baruch Mizrahi helps the right-wing pressure Netanyahu to be tough with the Palestinians.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Funeral of Chief Superintended Baruch Mizrahi in Jerusalem, April 16 2014.
Funeral of Chief Superintended Baruch Mizrahi in Jerusalem, April 16 2014.Credit: Reuters
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

As far as is known, on the 11th day of Operation Brother’s Keeper, there were no unusual developments in connection with the efforts to find the three kidnapped teenagers. The significant news, only flimsily related to the present affair but very relevant to the heart of the public debate in Israel, was the apparent solving of another terror attack in the Hebron area, the murder of police officer Maj. Gen. Baruch Mizrahi in April.

With the lifting of the gag order on this incident, it was reported on Monday that a month and a half ago the Shin Bet arrested two suspects in the case, a father and son. They were charged on Monday. The father Ziad Awad, a Hamas activist from the village of Idna, was freed in the prisoner exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Beyond any impact this might have on Israel-Palestinian Authority relations, it is above all political dynamite.

Since the teens’ abduction, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been under major pressure from the right to take harsher measures toward Hamas, and also toward the PA to some degree. Awad’s arrest makes Netanyahu more vulnerable to the arguments from the settlers and the right wing of the Likud. In October 2011, he retreated from his declared ideological positions and released 1,027 Palestinian terrorists from prison in exchange for Gilad Shalit’s release from Hamas captivity.

The right’s argument goes like this: Netanyahu released terrorists responsible for the murders of hundreds of Israelis, knowing that many of them would return to terrorist activity. Mizrahi, who was murdered while driving with his family to a Passover seder in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, is just the first victim of this rash decision. There will be more in the future. Therefore, the prime minister must not display any further weakness toward the Palestinians.

Thus the demand for harsh decisions made previously: the refusal to release the Israeli Arab prisoners in the final stage of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent peace initiative, the bill sponsored by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) to ban pardons for terrorist killers and the force-feeding bill meant to be applied to the hunger-striking security detainees.

The suspect in the Mizrahi murder was arrested in early May, and the prime minister knew before the teenagers’ kidnapping that it would become public that he was among the prisoners released in the Shalit deal. This could also explain the hard line he is taking now — from his declared refusal to negotiate with the boys’ kidnappers (who have so far not sought any such thing), to the re-arrest of 56 people who were released in the Shlit deal as punishment for the kidnapping and the decision to demolish the Awad family home, as well as the announcement of an all-out campaign against Hamas.

It is in the Hamas campagin that a little wind seems to have gone out of the sails of the Israeli plan. Senior Israel Defense Forces officers openly admitted on Monday afternoon what Haaretz reported that morning: The army feels that the additional parts tacked on to the operation — the campaign against Hamas, the mass arrests of the organization’s activists and, mainly, the raids of the offices of the civilian associations connected to Hamas — have run their course. The IDF wants to go back to focusing on the original target, continuing the search for the three boys and pursuing the Hamas cell that abducted them.

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