Prepare for another Israeli retreat. The prison gates are about to be flung open again and Hamas handed a victory greater than any territorial concession.
Sources say that the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit is imminent. The ransom demanded by Hamas reportedly now stands at 800 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.
The absurdly skewed numbers make plain that this will be no exchange. While the first Palestinian to walk through those prison gates will be swapped, the seven hundred and ninety nine who follow him will be handed over gratis.
A mass release of this kind, if it takes place, will be catastrophic for Israelis. In its wake, terrorists would be insane not to carry out more such abductions in order to reap such bonanzas.
And past experience shows that released prisoners rejoin the ranks of their terror gangs with redoubled fervor.
Orit Adato, former Commissioner of the Israeli Prison Service, observed, in her 2005 article, "The Issue of Prisoner Release," that some security prisoners "left jail more extreme and better equipped ideologically and professionally."
But these sacrifices have long been accepted as the unavoidable price of "bringing our boys home."
Israeli soldiers and their families, facing the harsh realities of life here, know that no stone is ever left unturned in our government's pursuit of that goal.
Amnon Zichroni, a veteran negotiator for the release of Israeli soldiers, reflecting on this, said in a recent interview: "Perhaps the other side doesn't have the same attitude as we do to our people."
Based on his past involvement in trying to free European hostages held in Iran and Lebanon, he is convinced that even "the Europeans placed less value on their citizens' lives than we [Israelis] do."
This noble attitude should not be tampered with. However, it is essential that candidate prisoners be carefully selected and their release wisely negotiated.
Zichroni, a lawyer, has come by this wisdom over several decades. His experience in the field began in 1978 when PM Menachem Begin appointed him to handle the release of Israeli prisoners and hostages in Arab hands. He was also involved intensively with the cases of Ron Arad and the 1982 Sultan Yaakub MIA's.
Successful negotiation, he maintains, demands that government lay the groundwork immediately after the kidnapping. Interviewed by the Bitter Lemons forum shortly after Cpl. Shalit was taken hostage, Zichroni advised the Israeli government to "desist from targeted assassinations and deal instead with targeted kidnappings… of people who are close to the organizations holding Shalit, who could be bargaining cards... Without leverage, we fail."
His advice was not heeded. Prime Minister Olmert's initial public stance was to refuse to negotiate at all. Zichroni says this increased the danger to Shalit's life.
Having since flip-flopped and with no ground-work, Olmert is negotiating from a position of weakness. Consequently, the deal being weighed threatens to be more loathsome than all those preceding it. If closed, it will cross a critical red line that has been observed in all of Israel's earlier prisoner exchanges.
To obtain Shalit's freedom, Israel has reportedly agreed for the first time to hand over prisoners "with blood on their hands." But the deal's brokers and Israel's political leaders are attempting to conceal this with the lulling words "women and children."
The fact is that several of the women and sub-eighteen-year-olds who are candidates for release are no less lethal and murderous than the stereotypical twenty-something male terrorist.
Those who grieve – like me – for loved ones murdered at Jerusalem's Sbarro Restaurant are well aware of the dangers posed by female terrorists. One hot August afternoon five years ago, Ahlam Tamimi, then a twenty-year-old university co-ed, played a central role in the terror attack that took the life of my daughter and 14 other innocents, most of them children.
Tamimi selected the target and escorted the suicide bomber to the restaurant's door. 130 people were injured and maimed in that massacre.
Interviewed in her prison cell four months ago, she told reporters: "I'm not sorry for what I did. I will get out of prison and I refuse to recognize Israel's existence."
Tamimi has served less than five years of her 16 consecutive life sentences. Yet already in March 2006, she proclaimed, "I know that we will become free from Israeli occupation and then I will also be free from the prison."
I appeal to Prime Minister Olmert to resist the pressure of Palestinian and Western diplomats to succumb to the above terms. They are undoubtedly invoking populist comparisons between the IRA and the Palestinian prisoners and pointing to the success of the Good Friday Agreement, signed by the IRA and Britain in 1998. But our situation is fundamentally different.
The Good Friday document took into account several factors absent from the Palestinian case. First, there was no mass exodus of hundreds of Irish convicted terrorists. They were released gradually, in order of the severity of their crimes and the time remaining in their sentences.
In addition, only prisoners belonging to organizations that had signed the ceasefire accord were freed. The others were to be reassessed at a later stage in the peace process. And both sides, the Irish and British governments, were entrusted with re-integrating the prisoners both before and after release.
Clearly, none of those conditions apply in our region. No Palestinian terror organization has signed anything remotely like a cease-fire with Israel. On the contrary, they have reiterated, both in word and deed, their commitment to the destruction of Israel. There is no peace process to speak of.
Consequently, once the freed Palestinians have rejoined the ranks of their terror organizations, the only "re-integration program" they will attend is target practice and advanced Islamist indoctrination.
There is another significant distinction between the Irish and Palestinian experiences. In Ireland, the victim families were involved in the process from the start. They were notified of pending IRA prisoner releases and invited to respond. The pain of the Israeli victims has never been a factor in the prisoner release equation.
With Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev still held for ransom by terrorists, prisoner release is a hotly debated issue. Now is the time for the government to reassess this tactic. Once fine-tuned, it can become the key to "bringing our boys home" without being suicidal: without strengthening our enemies, endangering Israel, making a mockery of justice or infuriating the victims.
The question is: Are our leaders up to the challenge?
Click Here to support Frontpagemag.com.