Commentary Magazine


Topic: prisoner exchange

Blame Palestinians, Not Netanyahu, for Shalit Prisoner Recidivism

Critics of Israel’s decision to exchange 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit predicted it would happen. And they were right. Israel’s Shin Bet — the country’s national security agency — announced today that two of those released in order to gain Shalit’s freedom were rearrested on terrorism-related charges. One was brought up on charges of buying illegal weapons while the other was part of a plot to commit more kidnappings of Israelis. This will, no doubt, lead to a chorus of “I told you so’s” from those who blasted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for agreeing to the lopsided exchange.

These two are probably just the tip of the iceberg in terms of recidivism. As was the case with past prisoner exchanges, there is every expectation that many more of those released in order to save Shalit will be back trying to kill Israelis before long. But though this will lead many of those who were opposed to the trade to believe this discredits Netanyahu’s choice, they will discover the vast majority of Israelis who approved it probably won’t change their minds. The possibility that many, if not most, of the released prisoners would not abide by the terms of the deal was raised in advance of the exchange and acknowledged by its supporters, if not Netanyahu himself. Yet the same reasons that led this point to be discounted last year still apply.

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Critics of Israel’s decision to exchange 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit predicted it would happen. And they were right. Israel’s Shin Bet — the country’s national security agency — announced today that two of those released in order to gain Shalit’s freedom were rearrested on terrorism-related charges. One was brought up on charges of buying illegal weapons while the other was part of a plot to commit more kidnappings of Israelis. This will, no doubt, lead to a chorus of “I told you so’s” from those who blasted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for agreeing to the lopsided exchange.

These two are probably just the tip of the iceberg in terms of recidivism. As was the case with past prisoner exchanges, there is every expectation that many more of those released in order to save Shalit will be back trying to kill Israelis before long. But though this will lead many of those who were opposed to the trade to believe this discredits Netanyahu’s choice, they will discover the vast majority of Israelis who approved it probably won’t change their minds. The possibility that many, if not most, of the released prisoners would not abide by the terms of the deal was raised in advance of the exchange and acknowledged by its supporters, if not Netanyahu himself. Yet the same reasons that led this point to be discounted last year still apply.

The first is that although the return of these terrorists to their deadly trade tells us a lot about the Palestinians, it is not as if these two or all thousands of those given up for Shalit are filling a void in the ranks of Hamas or any other group. Though their experience may be helpful as veteran cadres, there was and is no shortage of recruits to join them. That means that any casualties incurred by the actions of the freed terrorists would probably have happened even if they had never been let go. It simply isn’t fair to assert that Shalit’s life was bought with the blood of others.

Even more importantly, most Israelis still believe Shalit’s life was worth even an exorbitant price. The idea of a leaving an ordinary youngster who had been drafted into the service of his country to die was simply unacceptable. Though these imbalanced exchanges may make no sense to the rational dispassionate observer who may well say they only encourage future kidnappings (such as those the released prisoner was plotting), Israelis believe it is immaterial to the main question of doing everything to ensure that no solider is ever left behind.

A better question to be asked today is why the Palestinian leadership continues to encourage such activities. The general celebration of the release of convicted killers by the Palestinian population illustrated that their devotion to a culture of violence is unchanged. So long as that is true, they will continue to produce such killers. That fact gives the lie to the charges that the lack of peace is Israel’s fault. It is this awful insight into the mindset of the Palestinians that will determine whether future generations of Israelis will be forced to fight and their leaders presented with unpalatable dilemmas such as that faced by Netanyahu.

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