Copyright 2003 Jerusalem Post
HEADLINE: What's worse than a prisoner exchange?
BYLINE: DAVID FORMAN
The international community, concerned with strengthening the position of Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen, is urging Israel to release Palestinians who have murdered Israelis.
There is something terribly out of balance here. Both a lack of parity and of logic seem to have taken hold.
To advance the road map Israel is expected to send back to Gaza and Jenin members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two groups most of the world has defined as terrorist organizations.
If the reasonableness of this claim upon Israel contradicts all logic, the fact that no one seems to be urging a parallel display of generosity on the part of Hizbullah to supply even a hint of the whereabouts of the Israelis missing in Lebanon - let alone their release, if they are alive - defies all sense of fair play.
A distinction should be made. Israel still holds in its prisons hundreds of Palestinians, some of whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. These Palestinians should be released irrespective of what has been agreed upon in the road map regarding prisoners.
But what the Palestinian leadership is talking about - and the world community seems to support - is Israel releasing murderers and their accomplices. There hasn't been even a hint of a prisoner exchange.
Were Iraqi gunmen to kidnap American soldiers, could anyone imagine the US agreeing to a prisoner exchange? If al-Qaida took an American hostage, could anyone envision the US setting free in exchange even one individual tangentially associated with felling the Twin Towers? Is Israel really expected to free a Palestinian terrorist who walked into a Jewish home and shot two children to death in their beds? Has the world gone mad? Yet the hudna, an intra-Palestinian agreement to temporarily suspend attacks against Israelis, may be cast aside if Israelis do not release their murderers.
No wonder the vast majority of Israelis are wary of any peace agreement that may result from the road map. If an agreement between Palestinians cannot be maintained for even three months - the length of time of this hudna - imagine what might happen to an Israel-Palestinian accord.
WHAT IS so ironic is that Israel would probably be willing to release some of these awful criminals if there were a prisoner exchange. Israel has proven its willingness to negotiate lopsided agreements in the past, releasing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for two or three dead Israelis.
Even now I would bet that were Israel to get some verified information about Yehuda Katz, Tzvi Feldman and Zachary Baumel, who have been missing since the battle of Sultan Yakub in the 1982 Lebanon War, for that information alone it might open the gates to the Ansar transit prison in the Negev.
One might ask: What is the connection between Hizbullah, which operates out of Lebanon, and the Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners Israel is holding?
First, Hizbullah claims it will continue to carry on its campaign against the Zionists until every inch of Palestinian land is liberated and every last Palestinian prisoner freed.
Second, Abu Jihad, one of the most wanted Palestinian terrorists operating out of Lebanon, was killed a decade ago. Found among his belongings was half of Zachary Baumel's army identity tag. In 1993 Yasser Arafat presented it to prime minister Yitzhak Rabin with a promise that within two weeks he would provide further information about what had happened to Baumel.
To date that promise has not been fulfilled - by Arafat or anyone else in the Palestinian Authority - despite the fact that the Cairo Accords, signed in May 1994 and calling on the PA to hand over individuals suspected of committing crimes in Israel, included a paragraph on the MIAs.
My hunch is that should Abu Mazen produce information about Baumel's fate, Israel would the very next day release even the bloodstained terrorists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
But an imbalanced exchange of prisoners is not being called for. What is being demanded instead is an outright amnesty. For what? A teetering hudna that will leave the military might of Hamas and Islamic Jihad intact?
While I could conceive of even a skewed prisoner exchange that provides Israel with some tangible return in the form of information about our MIAs, a nonreciprocal release of Palestinian prisoners on Israel's part makes a mockery of common sense, fair play and moral decency.
The writer is chairman of Rabbis for Human Rights.
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