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Palestinian prisoners go free
Photo: Reuters
Ronen Bergman
Finger in the dam
Op-ed: Relative calm in West Bank is deceiving and intoxicating; time is not on Israel's side

The first intifada broke out in November 1987. Some blamed then-defense minister, the late Yitzhak Rabin, claiming that the prisoners exchange deal with Palestinian Ahmed Jibril PFLP Group, which took place two years earlier, contributed to the uprising. Indeed, many of the prisoners who were released as part of that deal headed the "popular committees" which led the uprising.

 

According to the Shin Bet's (Israel's General Security Agency) data, 48% of the 238 Palestinian prisoners who returned to the territories in the framework of the "Jibril Deal" were jailed again.

 

One of them, Islamic Jihad figure Luay Saadi, was detained again in September 1999 for providing logistical assistance to wanted terrorists in Samaria. He was released in January 2004 and, according to the data, proceeded to set up extensive terror infrastructure in the Samaria region, which resulted in the murder of 30 Israelis and left 300 more injured. He was killed in 2005.

 

The statistics show that 45% of all those who were released in prisoner exchange deals have resumed their terrorist activities. Out of the 364 prisoners who returned to the territories in January 2004 after being freed by Israel in exchange for Elhanan Tannenbaum (a reserves colonel who was lured to a drug deal in Dubai, where he was kidnapped by Hezbollah to Lebanon), 30% were arrested again.

 

These prisoners served as the basis for the reestablishment of Islamic Jihad's infrastructure. This terror group is responsible for a string of attacks that killed dozens of Israelis over 2006.

 

Upon examination of the dry statistics, it appears that the release of prisoners places them at the forefront of terror and ultimately leads to another wave of terror – so why did this not occur in the aftermath of the Shalit deal? Does the almost complete calm that has prevailed over the past year prove that the prophecies were exaggerated?

 

A partial explanation is that a large number of the released prisoners, certainly the dangerous ones, were deported to foreign countries or to Gaza, thus limiting their ability to harm Israelis.

 

The full explanation is more complex, and it pertains to the historical context into which these prisoners are released. It turns out that if they are freed during an explosive period which lacks a moderating element, like in the 1980s, they will reach the front line. But if they are released to the West Bank, where the ruling Palestinian Authority combats terror amid enhanced security cooperation with Israel, they keep quiet.

 

The relative calm in the West Bank is both deceiving and intoxicating. Time is not on our side. If the levee breaks and the PA won't be able to stop the flooding, we will mostly likely see some of the prisoners released in the Shalit deal at the forefront of the confrontation with Israel.

 

 

 

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