The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is opposing Israeli plans to free 104 Palestinians jailed by Israel before the 1993 Oslo Accords for involvement in terrorist attacks and the murder of Israeli civilians. Reports indicate that the terrorists are to be freed in four batches during Israeli/Palestinian talks that are supposed to resume, in part, because Israel’s prior agreement to free the jailed terrorists.
Families of terror victims are harshly criticizing the Israeli government’s plan to release the terrorists. Arnold Roth, whose 15-year old daughter Malki was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist in the 2001 Sbarro Pizzeria bombing in Jerusalem, said, “I am emphatically not political, and it does not come naturally to me to be speaking against something the government in its wisdom decided to do …But the idea to hand over murderers in order to prime some sort of negotiating pump simply enrages me” (‘Bereaved families angered by plan to release Palestinian prisoners,’ JNS News Service, July 24, 2013). Eliyahu Karmani, whose son Ronen (along with three other people) was murdered in 1990 by one of the Palestinian terrorists slated to be freed in this upcoming release has said bitterly, “Nowhere else on earth do you see this, that a person who got four life sentences plus twenty years is released before completing a single life sentence … Why? Based on what?” (‘”How is this possible? How?’ demands mother of boy who was kidnapped, murdered by terrorists who are to be set free,’ Israel National News, July 25, 2013).
The ZOA has long argued that freeing jailed terrorists in exchange for kidnapped Israelis rewards terrorists; allows terrorists to go undeterred at the prospect of long prison sentences when experience confirms that they have good chance of being released early; boosts the standing and morale of the most extreme Palestinian terrorist groups; encourages kidnapping of Israelis by terrorist groups hoping to secure the release of further jailed terrorists by ransoming the kidnapped Israelis in return for them; and will result in the murder of additional Israelis by terrorists freed under such deals.
The Almagor Terrorist Victims Association (ATVA) disclosed in April 2007 that 177 Israelis killed in terror attacks in the previous five years had been killed by terrorists who had been previously freed from Israeli jails. An earlier ATVA report showed that 123 Israelis had been murdered by terrorists freed during the period 1993-99. Also, in September 2009, IDF Colonel Herzl Halevy told the Ma’ariv newspaper that terrorists freed in the 2004 swap with Hezbollah comprised “the entire infrastructure of Islamic Jihad” in subsequent years, during which Islamic Jihad bombings killed at least 37 Israelis. Also, journalist Yitzhak Tessler has noted that, “former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan admitted that the terrorists released in the Elhanan Tenenbaum [prisoner exchange] deal caused the death of 231 Israelis” (Yitzhak Tessler, ‘Shalit deal wrong move,’ Yediot Ahronot, October 10, 2011.)
The ZOA has noted that when Prime Minister Netanyahu was not under massive political pressure from Washington to make one-sided concessions to Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA), he showed he fully understood that freeing jailed Palestinian terrorists is a dangerous mistake. In his 1995 book, Fighting Terrorism: How the West Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorism, Mr. Netanyahu observed that exchanging terrorists for kidnapped soldiers is “a mistake Israel made over and over again” and that refusing to release terrorists from prison was “among the most important policies that must be adopted in the face of terrorism … The release of convicted terrorists before they have served their full sentences seems like an easy and tempting way of defusing blackmail situations in which innocent people might lose their lives, but its utility is momentary at best … Prisoner releases only embolden terrorists by giving them the feeling that even if they are caught, their punishment will be brief. Worse, by leading terrorists to believe that their demands will be met, they encourage precisely the terrorist blackmail they are supposed to defuse” (Quoted in Gil Hoffman, ‘In book, PM warned not to release terrorists,’ Jerusalem Post, October 12, 2011).
More specifically, when the previous Olmert government also concluded a deal that involved freeing jailed terrorists, then-Opposition leader Netanyahu rightly said that, “This weakens Israel and strengthens the terror elements. Most of the public – a huge part of the public – understands that this is faulty and reflects weakness and loss of way” (Amnon Meranda, ‘Netanyahu: Gov’t crossing dangerous line by freeing prisoners,’ Yediot Ahronot, August 20, 2008).
The ZOA also notes that Palestinian affairs analyst, Khaled Abu Toameh wrote prior to an earlier, ill-advised freeing of jailed terrorists by Israel that, “The argument that the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails strengthens the ‘moderates’ has never proven to be correct. The best way to strengthen the ‘moderates’ at this stage is by putting pressure on them to reform the PA and end financial corruption and the state of lawlessness and chaos in the West Bank. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords 15 years ago, Israel – citing the need to strengthen ‘moderate’ Palestinians – has released thousands of security prisoners. Ironically, in some cases the released prisoners turned out to be a big headache for the ‘moderate’ Palestinian leadership. Shortly after the signing of the Oslo Accords, Israel freed hundreds of Fatah security prisoners with the hope that they would help Yasser Arafat and his security forces in imposing law and order and fighting Hamas and Islamic Jihad. But many of the released prisoners soon became involved in various criminal activities ranging from armed robberies, extortion, theft and arms trafficking. Others later joined Hamas and other radical groups and became actively involved in armed attacks on Israel during the second intifada. They also became a financial burden on the shoulders of the PA, which had to put the local ‘heroes’ on its payroll and pay them salaries, although many of them were not doing any work” (Khaled Abu Toameh, ‘Analysis: Prisoner release does nothing for Abbas,’ Jerusalem Post, August 18, 2008).
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “There is no moral or practical justification for freeing convicted, Jew-killing terrorists. Quite the contrary: Prime Minister Netanyahu said he would stand firm in opposing any preconditions to renew talks. Yet, clearly, the freeing of terrorists is a precondition without which the PA will not return to talks. What case of staunchly imposing dictates and preconditions? This is an ill-advised climb-down by the Israeli government.
“Freed terrorists return to terror, shed more innocent life and thus endanger rather than help secure Israel, while Palestinians neither appreciate such releases but merely demand more. Mahmoud Abbas and the PA are neither moderates nor peace-makers, but even if they were both, such a release of terrorists belonging would be a terrible mistake.
“Consider: if Mahmoud Abbas was serious about ending terrorism and making peace, which are signed Palestinian obligations under the Oslo agreements and the 2003 Roadmap peace plan, the last thing he would want is to have veteran, freed terrorists roaming the streets of the PA. A leader committed to rooting out terror would want such men to remain behind bars; he would not be agitating for their release.
“In this connection, we agree with the Jerusalem Post editorial when it notes that “The PA never owned up to the fact that these convicts were found guilty and deserved to be sentenced, as they would be in any democratic setting with a sense of self preservation. What is the value of compromise without acceptance of the fundamental prohibition against attacking civilians? The PA never cracked down on terrorism despite myriad promises. Moreover, its headliners funded, nurtured and dispatched these very murderers. The PA officially celebrates them as heroes instead of condemning them as villains. The impression deliberately imparted by Palestinian spokesmen is that these prisoners were arbitrarily and unjustly incarcerated. There is no PA appreciation for these releases. Each Israeli goodwill measure is greeted with ill-will and fiery rhetoric about how insufficient the concession is. Such ingratitude undercuts the cost-benefit computation.”
“The duty of the state is to protect its citizens. It follows that the most important consideration for the Israeli government must be preventing the loss of further innocent lives to terror. That in turn means not freeing terrorists, not boosting the terrorist organizations that clamor for their release and not making one-sided concessions that stimulate the aggression of the Palestinian terror groups.”