Israel Mustn’t Negotiate With Terrorists - Even for the Kidnapped Boys

The Shalit saga shows us that paying any price for the return of 'everyone’s son' isn’t endearingly and warmly 'Israeli’, it is simplistic, irrational and only ensures further kidnappings.

Gabriel Sassoon
Gabriel Sassoon
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Israeli activists celebrating outside the protest tent in Jerusalem, after Israel and Hamas reached a deal to release captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, Oct. 11, 2011.
Israeli activists celebrating outside the protest tent in Jerusalem, after Israel and Hamas reached a deal to release captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, Oct. 11, 2011.Credit: Emil Salman
Gabriel Sassoon
Gabriel Sassoon

The time has now come for Israel to finally adopt an iron-clad policy of not negotiating with terrorists. The current policy – of populist pandering – is a recipe for ongoing national trauma.

Only two and a half years ago, over 1000 Palestinian prisoners, including hundreds of convicted murderers who perpetrated horrific terrorist acts, were released in exchange for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who had been a Hamas captive for five years.

At the time, there were many of us who argued that not only would these released murderers likely reoffend, but that this Faustian bargain would encourage the terrorists to kidnap still more Israelis.

The killing of just one Israeli by one of the released murderers would mean, effectively, that Israel had simply traded Shalit’s life for another Israeli’s death, with 1000 other terrorists on the loose to boot. Israel would have traded the momentary relief of Shalit’s return for likely future mayhem.

Today, tragically, the chickens came home to roost, as we learned that a prisoner released in the Shalit deal has been arrested and charged with the murder of an Israeli police officer killed on the eve of Passover, Baruch Mizrahi.

And, of course, ten days ago, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped by terrorists. They remain in captivity, and their families – and the country – are rightly worried sick about them.

I want to juxtapose these images of terror with the image of Jews around the world and in Israel dancing in the streets over Shalit’s release. That almost unbelievably short-sighted outbreak of consequence-free joy was a truly Israeli celebration – of a deal that set loose hundreds of unrepentant fundamentalist murderers. All to free “everyone’s son,” as he had been branded by his family’s slick PR campaign in a clever appeal to emotion over reason.

And now here we have the consequences of this emotion-driven insanity. Was Shalit’s blood redder than Mizrahi’s? Why did Mizrahi deserve to die while Shalit deserved to live? That is, after all, what the Shalit deal portended.

What about Naftali, Gilad and Eyal? Terrorist elements were emboldened by the Shalit deal and were salivating over the chance to kidnap still more Israelis as bargaining chips for yet more terrorists. There have subsequently been countless attempted murders and kidnappings. And so Shalit’s release indirectly led to the kidnapping last week, and the horrors that the teens are now enduring.

The reason this has happened is the government’s standard operating procedure when negotiating for the release of hostages, going back decades. The hostages become “everyone’s child” and Israel collectively loses its capacity to make policy choices in a rational manner.

Gershon Baskin, who in 2011 exalted in his helping broker the Shalit deal, today distanced himself from it because of Mizrahi’s murder, saying “send your accusations to the Prime Minister and the 25 other ministers who voted for the deal. I had absolutely nothing to do with the decision making… [but] what would you do and think if Gilad Shalit was your child?”

The job of the government is precisely not to ask what it would do if the hostage was their child. That is the job of the child’s parents. The job of the government is to do what is best for the country.

Negotiating with terrorists, and releasing hundreds of convicted murderers, is not what is best for the country, by any measure. It is simply bad policy.

Baskin countered that 80% of the country supported the Shalit deal. But what does that matter? Perhaps 80% of the country would like 100,000 shekel monthly cash handouts. Is that how Israel makes its fiscal policy?

Frequently we hear that redeeming captives is a preeminent religious imperative. Proponents of modern Israeli prisoner exchanges conveniently ignore settled halakha which holds that captives may not be ransomed for “more than their value.” A key reason for this is to avoid incentivizing further kidnappings. Modern rabbinic authorities, like the esteemed Rabbi Goren, took this is a religious injunction against the release of hundreds of murderers in exchange for a few Israeli hostages.

There are a number of factors at hand here. First, Israeli political culture cannot cope with hostage crises and reverts to a kind of puerile, pre-conventional moral compass when faced with them.

Second is the reductive political discourse that simplistically equates advocating a ‘no negotiating with terrorists’ policy with heartlessness and a dearth of compassion.

Third, we are dealing with a weak political class in the framework of a fractious electoral and political system. Decision-makers like Netanyahu, who signed off on the Shalit deal, are given to populism over principle and good policy.

There are those who find the ‘bring them home at all costs’ non-policy endearingly and warmly ‘Israeli.’ It may be Israeli, but it is neither endearing nor warm. It is as cold as Mizrahi’s body and the cell holding Gilad, Naftali and Eyal.

The madness must end now. No more negotiating with terrorists.

Gabriel Sassoon is a Tel Aviv-based public affairs consultant and foreign media advisor to a Knesset Deputy Speaker. He served as English Campaign Coordinator for the Israeli Labor Party, and is a member of the Australian Labor Party. Follow him on Twitter: @GabrielSassoon

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