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A Wedding Party for Terrorists By: Deborah Weiss
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, August 28, 2008

Earlier this month, Israel handed over live terrorists to Hezbollah in exchange for the body parts of two dead soldiers.  It wasn’t enough that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas congratulated Hezbollah on this win.  Nor was it enough that Abbas’ political party, Fatah, organized a celebration in a show of solidarity with Hezbollah.  This month, on his own initiative, Prime Minister Olmert proposed the release of an additional 199 prisoners to President Abbas.

On August 17, 2008, the Israeli cabinet voted to approve Olmert’s proposal as a “goodwill gesture to the Palestinian Authority.”  Secretary Condoleezza Rice, who arrived in the West Bank to facilitate so-called “peace talks” between Israel and Palestine, emphasized that the prisoner release is “something that matters a lot to the Palestinians.”  Her goal is to secure an Israel-Palestine peace deal by January, when President Bush leaves office.  Mark Regev, a spokesman for Olmert, explained that the release is a “confidence building” gesture to Abbas, intended to boost the US-backed Fatah party after Hamas seized control of Gaza last year.  He believes it could “serve to strengthen” the talks and hopes “it will contribute to a positive climate.”

The Israeli cabinet set criteria for the prisoner release.  Those released could not belong to Hamas, Palestinian Jihad or “have blood on their hands.”  But the cabinet could not even stick to their own rules, making two exceptions for the release of murderers in yet another “gesture.”  Of the 199 prisoners released, approximated 30 percent were involved in crimes from stone-throwing to shooting attacks, that led to the injuries of innocent Israeli’s.  Two of them were serving life sentences for murder.  Abu Ali Yatta, jailed since 1979 for the murder of an Israeli student, was elected to the parliament as a Fatah member in 2006, while still in prison.  The other, Said al-Atabeh, was a member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (“DFLP”).  He was convicted in a terrorist bombing which resulted in one fatality, and dozens of others wounded.  “It’s not easy to release prisoners, especially prisoners that were involved directly in terrorist acts against innocent civilians,” Regev stated.

Relatives of the victims petitioned the Israeli High Court to block the prisoner release.  Their efforts were to no avail.  Their petition was rejected on Sunday and the prisoner release proceeded on Monday morning.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is head of the Israeli team in the peace-talk “negotiations” and a primary candidate for Israeli Prime Minister during the upcoming September elections.  Making a distinction without a difference, he rationalized that if Israel were to release prisoners to Hamas, it would show weakness, but releasing prisoners to Fatah as part of a “negotiation process” sends a message that “those who negotiate with Israel can gain through dialogue.”  Perhaps that is the problem.  The Palestinian Authority talks a good game, but it fails to produce any good faith actions.  Actions, not words should be rewarded.  Past prisoner releases have only led to more violence and bloodshed.

It is evident that the prisoner release is not softening the stance of the Palestinian Authority.  President Abbas, who allegedly wants peace, has already quipped “there won’t be peace without the release of all the prisoners.”  The Palestinian Minister of Prison Affairs, Ashraf al-Ajrami understands the message that Israel’s action sends.  He explained that the release of two murderers was a “small step opening the door to bigger ones” and that “releasing these kinds of prisoners” indicates Israel’s willingness to ease up on its requirements.  Therefore, he is understandably hopeful that more prisoners will be released in the future.  There are currently 11,000 Palestinian prisoners that remain in Israeli jails.  Both Fatah and Hamas aspire to see one hundred percent of them released, without regard to political affiliation.

The prisoners were released at the West Bank where they were welcomed as heroes and “freedom fighters” by Palestinian flag-waivers.  To boot, President Abbas threw a reception for the prisoners at his Palestinian Authority compound.  Ashraf joyfully likened the event to “a national wedding celebration.”

Right-leaning politicians objected to the prisoner release.  Benjamin Netanyahu, former Israeli Prime Minister, and Chairman of the conservative Likud party, bashed the cabinet’s decision, stating that it undermined ethics and security standards.  Conservative Parliamentarian Aryah Eldad argued that the release rewarded terrorism and will result in yet more terrorism.  “This is a real disgrace,” he proclaimed.  And he’s right.  After all, according to the State Department, the military wing of Fatah, known as the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, is a designated terrorist organization.  Statistically it is responsible for more Israeli deaths in the West Bank than any other terrorist group, including Hamas and Palestinian Jihad.  Several of the prisoners released were members of the Brigade, including one of the murderers.  Credible Middle East experts argue that it is an error to distinguish Fatah from its military wing, believing that the entire Fatah movement constitutes a terrorist entity.

Recent “peace talks” between Israel and Palestine have yielded virtually no results.  They remain at a standstill regarding key issues including the final borders, the status of Jerusalem, and the Palestinian right of return for 4.6 million Palestinian refugees.  Conflict resolution has been hindered to some degree by Israel’s expansion into the West Bank, but even more so by ongoing Palestinian violence. The violence has been emanating primarily from Gaza, where Hamas won control after winning a democratic election against Fatah in a landslide.  The violence further escalated after Israel evacuated Gaza in 2005, eager to demonstrate her willingness to relinquish land in exchange for peace.  But no peace was to be had, again driving home the point that rewarding bad behavior serves to reinforce it.

Americans should condemn President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority for rejoicing over the release of cold-blooded terrorists as though it were a wedding party.  But let’s not forget that it was Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, backed by US support, that gave Abbas his most expensive wedding gift….to be paid for with more Israeli blood.

Deborah Weiss, Esq. lobbies for Vigilance, Inc. and is a freelance writer.

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