Releasing the Prisoners, for All the Wrong Reasons

A release of prisoners? By all means, but only as one clause within a negotiated settlement. Early release, as a price to be paid in order to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table, is unacceptable.

Shlomo Gazit
Shlomo Gazit
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Shlomo Gazit
Shlomo Gazit

If I were a cabinet minister I’d vote against the release of Palestinian prisoners, but not for the reasons given by opponents of this move at the cabinet meeting.

I’m not concerned about the risk that the prisoners will return to terrorist activity. “Terrorist activity” is not a craft one returns to if given the opportunity. Such activity arises when circumstances develop that call for it. If such a situation unfolds, which may happen if there is no progress on the political front, the other side will not lack for terrorists. There will be no need to recruit the ones that were just released after many long years in prison.

The statistics regarding recidivist terrorists are also overblown. We are told that 4 percent of terrorists who were released in the deal to free Gilad Shalit have been re-arrested. Most of them were arrested not for involvement in terrorist activity but for breaching the terms of their release, mainly for moving out of the areas they were confined to.

Some of those who object to the release of the prisoners repeatedly remind us of the horrific acts of terror they were involved in and call for the application of the full measure of the law against them.

I don’t object to the release of these prisoners out of a sense of vengeance.

As early as the summer of 1967, immediately after the war and with the start of the occupation, it was decided that no death sentences would be given even following the most extreme incidents of terror. In fact, we stated that there was no room for comparing the Palestinian struggle to the deeds of the Nazis, which were the only ones for which the death sentence would be imposed. Furthermore, I have no doubt that when the day comes and a peace agreement is signed, it will include the release of all Palestinian prisoners, just as a peace agreement after a war includes the release of all prisoners of war.

My objection to a release of prisoners stems from my attitude to the talks which are about to begin in Washington. I support any attempt to reach an agreement and find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are some who think that it is too late to achieve a two-state solution. I believe that we must not lose hope, and that achieving peace is in the interest of both sides. Palestinians and Israelis alike are in need of efforts to reach an agreement. At this point I believe that the lack of a resolution weighs more heavily on the Palestinians.

For this reason, I don’t think we should pay a price simply for entering negotiations. I support entering negotiations with no preset conditions. I’m bothered by such conditions, ours and theirs, that are demanded before the resumption of negotiations.

A release of prisoners? By all means, but only as one clause within a negotiated settlement. Early release, as a price to be paid in order to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table, is unacceptable.

The writer is a retired major general and former head of the IDF’s military intelligence.

Palestinians holding placards and photographs depicting Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails during a protest.Credit: Reuters

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