We should remember that this terrorist release move would not have taken place at the current timing and could been postponed to advanced stages of the negotiations had there been a willingness to freeze settlement construction – even temporarily.
Such a move could have been of great value to the Palestinians, and I believe it contains diplomatic and political logic, not to mention the fact that it is a reversible move which could be canceled later on – unlike the release of terrorists.
The first stage of the terrorist release went by relatively peacefully, mainly due to a political deal which was likely devised between the prime minister and the leader of Bayit Yehudi, the party which is now playing the role of leading the opposition to the release. As part of the deal, Bayit Yehudi would turn a blind eye to the deeply controversial release in exchange for "hush money" in the form of new settlement construction bids for every stage.
Hurting terror victims' families
In principle, I am firmly against releasing terrorists under pressure or under extortion of any kind of terror attack for the purpose of bargaining, even at the cost of failing to free a kidnapped soldier or citizen. I am also saying this as a father to three children who are serving simultaneously in IDF combat units.
I believe that even if this decision is completely legal as far as the government is concerned, such a release under pressure impairs the State of Israel's deterrence ability, conveys weakness, encourages additional acts of terror for the purpose of bargaining, re-strengthens the terror infrastructures and seriously hurts the feelings of the terror victims' families and broad parts of the Israeli public.
On the other hand, I do believe that in special cases a government can make a decision to release terrorists – at its own initiative – in order to advance a peace process, but not under extortion or pressure from a terror organization or a different country.
In light of its high public sensitivity, such a move should be postponed as much as possible to the latest stages of the negotiations when there have already been significant achievements or progress and when it can be explained to the public and to the families of terror victims.
I am against the release of terrorists who are citizens of the State of Israel – Arabs or Jews – under external pressure. I see this as a blatant intervention in the State of Israel's sovereignty which in fact links the State of Israel's Arab citizens to the citizens of the Palestinian Authority, serving as a dangerous precedent. Prisoners who are citizens of the State of Israel are an internal sovereign concern of the State of Israel, and a decision to release them can only be an internal decision of the state which is done under its own considerations and not under the external pressure of a foreign country.
I also find serious fault in the idea to bind the release of Palestinian terrorists with the release of Jewish terrorists. I see no justification for terror attacks committed by Jewish citizens of the State of Israel, a country which has a strong army, a security agency, a secret service and a police. When the state's citizens take the law into their hands and use terror against innocent people, they are committing a serious and dangerous act like no other, and should be treated with extra severity. A merciful attitude towards such cases, as we have already seen in the State of Israel in the "Jewish Underground" case, is wrong, could encourage a repeat of this outline and undermines our moral justification for seriously punishing those involved in terror on the Palestinian side. And so, political deals which bind the release of Jewish terrorists in order to "sugar the bitter pill" of releasing Palestinian terrorists are fundamentally wrong in my opinion.
So what should be done?
If it is true that Israel is now offering the release of 400 terrorists – including Israeli Arab prisoners (!) – for a Palestinian agreement to prolong the negotiations by another six months, it is clear that our government has managed, out of temporary survival considerations, to trap us in a situation of an ongoing act of terror for the purpose of bargaining, without any real return in the form of peace.
Therefore, I believe that we should stop the terrorist releases that are on the agenda immediately, including the fourth stage or any other future release deal, and present an alternative Israeli stance which accepts a temporary construction freeze (at least until the end of the negotiations) in all the settlements and outposts and a complete construction freeze (with no time limits) in the settlements and outposts outside the large settlement blocs.
Israel's government must make it clear that it will only agree to discuss a further terrorist release in the very advanced stages of the peace talks, and only if they produce real achievements. I believe that this approach should be presented to the Palestinian Authority and to the United States as a political "red line," even at the cost of a temporary diplomatic crisis.
I believe that a firm Israeli stance which opposes a further release of terrorists, and presents an alternative option of freezing settlement construction, will eventually be accepted by the Palestinian Authority, because like us, the PA is also not interested in being seen as responsible for the talks' failure.
Such a move will also somewhat improve the atmosphere among the Israeli public, which is completely confused by the controversial terrorist release rounds, which have lacked any diplomatic benefit so far.