The Prisoner Exchange Rate: 400 Palestinians for Every Israeli

"The question is not just what you tell the families of the kidnapped soldiers, but what you tell the families of the dead," says MK Yisrael Hasson (Yisrael Beiteinu), a former deputy chief of the Shin Bet security service.

Hasson was referring to the potential casualties who will die as a result of actions initiated by senior members of terror organizations released in the expected deals to free the hostages.

"It's true that these dead are still anonymous, and nor will the public know that they died because of the prisoner exchange deal," Hasson says. "But you must also look the families of the dead straight in the eye."

Over the past 18 months, the families of the kidnapped soldiers have taken on sacred-cow status in Israeli public opinion. The result is that we usually hear the families' demands to do everything to free their sons, without hearing any voice countering that we must not pay any price.

Still, it is obvious that the moment a deal is reached there will be fierce criticism of the price, the number of prisoners released, and especially the release of "terrorists with blood on their hands."

Two traumas lie buried in the subconscious of any discussion of a deal to release soldiers taken prisoner or kidnapped: the Jibril deal of 1985, in which 1,150 prisoners and detainees, including murderers, were exchanged for three Israeli soldiers; and the Tannenbaum deal, in which 430 prisoners and detainees, including those considered important bargaining chips, were exchanged for the abducted Israeli civilian and three bodies. You might say the established rate is 400 detainees per Israeli.

"Look how many people returned for life sentences from the Jibril deal," Hasson says. "More than 30 people were killed as a results of the release of Islamic Jihad people in the Jenin region in the Tannenbaum deal. A hundred and something were wounded. It is a terrible thing."

Hasson thinks that instead of negotiating for the kidnapped soldiers' release, Israel must create a balance of deterrence - create a situation in which no senior Hamas member would be able to walk on the street in Gaza until Gilad Shalit has been freed, or kidnap a Hezbollah member every month. "It can't be that the only option is negotiations," he says.

"If we didn't release them, we wouldn't pay with casualties? Where's the proof?" asks Kadima MK and retired IDF general Prof. Yitzhak Ben Yisrael, who is a strategic security expert.

"Nobody can say what might have happened if the Tannenbaum deal had not taken place," concurs retired general and former Mossad chief Dani Yatom, a Labor MK. "What is clear is that the terrorists' motivation never declines. We hit them hard and they shoot; kill them and they shoot. I don't see that their motivation has gone up or down as a result of their succeeding or not to release prisoners."

Prof. Shlomo Breznitz, a University of Haifa psychologist and world-class expert on stressful situations, was until recently an MK from Kadima. He says he does not accept the claim that the source of Israelis' strength is their sensitivity to the individual.

"That is one of our main weak points - we are fighting a cruel enemy and tie our own hands," Breznitz says, adding: "In the Second Lebanon War a division's assault came to a halt because of two wounded soldiers. It is totally absurd."

Breznitz, known to be close to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, says that Olmert must tell the families of the kidnapped soldiers that Israel cannot afford the mammoth deals, that this is impossible under the present circumstances. "The prime minister finds himself a victim of decades-old policy. You cannot expect him to drop it just like that. He is helpless."