Opinion

Releasing terrorists is bad, no matter which president proposes it

It sends exactly the wrong message to the Palestinian Arab public. It says that if you become a terrorist, there’s a good chance you’ll never really pay a price for your actions.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas (center) delivers a speech on the new Middle East peace plan at P.A. headquarters in Ramallah, Jan. 28, 2020. Photo by Flash90.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas (center) delivers a speech on the new Middle East peace plan at P.A. headquarters in Ramallah, Jan. 28, 2020. Photo by Flash90.
Stephen M. Flatow. Credit: Courtesy.
Stephen M. Flatow
Stephen M. Flatow is president of the Religious Zionists of America. He is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995, and author of A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror. (The RZA is not affiliated with any American or Israeli political party.)

The headline about a terror attack read “London stabbing suspect was recently released from prison.” That “suspect” had been released about a week ago after serving half of his sentence of three years and four months for terror offenses.

And now we read that many hundreds of Palestinian Arab terrorists will be set free from Israeli prisons if the Trump Mideast peace plan, formally called ­“Peace to Prosperity,” goes forward. How can that be a good thing?

I understand why many friends of Israel see parts of the plan as beneficial to the Jewish state. And I know it’s hard to accept the notion that a generally pro-Israel president might propose steps that are not all good for Israel. But we need to be frank about those parts of the plan that are harmful.

Section 15 of the plan, called “Prisoners,” requires Israel to release large numbers of imprisoned Palestinian Arab terrorists once a peace agreement is signed and the released prisoner signs “a pledge to promote within their community the benefits of co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians, and to conduct themselves in a manner that models co-existence. Prisoners who refuse to sign this pledge will remain incarcerated.”

Fortunately, those who have been convicted of murder, attempted murder or conspiracy to murder will not be freed. Thank goodness for that. Also, Arab terrorists who are Israeli citizens will not be set free. That’s good, too.

But we know what Palestinian pledges are worth; think of the pledges made in the Oslo Accords that Yasser Arafat agreed to and then disregarded. That leaves many terrorists who will be back on the streets, free to strike again.

How will the releases occur?

First, all “Administrative Detainees” will be set free since they have not yet been convicted. These are terrorists who are being held without charges because the evidence against them comes from sources that cannot be disclosed in open court without jeopardizing the lives of informants or intelligence agents. Administrative detention is not an Israeli creation. It is a holdover from the British Mandate days, and was applied to Jews and Arabs alike. In the early days of the Oslo Accords, the Rabin government placed numerous Israelis in administrative detention to tamp down their criticism of the government.

These detained-but-not-charged terrorists are held for six months at time. Every three months, an Israeli judge reviews the evidence against them to decide if they should remain in detention.

Let’s be honest: The detainees are not traffic scofflaws. They are terrorists deemed by Israeli security forces to have committed, or intend to commit, serious offenses, including murder, attempted murder or conspiracy to commit murder. That’s why they have been placed in detention in the first place—to keep them from carrying out their vicious plans.

The next category of terrorists who will go free are those who were convicted of membership in terrorist organizations; assisting terrorists in various ways; sheltering terrorists; inciting terrorism; or possession of weapons—obviously, for the purpose of using them at some point, or undergoing training in a terrorist camp—again with the aim of putting such training into action.

These are not political prisoners. They were not jailed for having extremist opinions. They are accomplices to terrorism. Or they are would-be terrorists. Or both. They are highly dangerous. They don’t regret their actions or plans. They just didn’t yet have the opportunity to carry them out.

Setting these terrorists free is wrong on so many levels. First, pledge or no pledge, it gives them the opportunity to resume their terrorist ways. Second, it’s a horrible injustice; they will be released after a brief time in prison, the equivalent of a slap on the wrist. Third, it sends exactly the wrong message to the Palestinian Arab public. It says that if you become a terrorist, there’s a good chance you’ll never really pay a price for your actions.

Moreover, the entire concept of releasing terrorists undercuts the premise of the Trump Mideast peace plan, which is based on the Palestinian leadership sincerely rejecting terrorism and halting its constant public glorification of those who murder Jews.

So, if Palestinian leaders genuinely reject terrorism, they should be glad that the terrorists are in prison. They shouldn’t want them to be released. The very fact that the Trump plan includes their release, as a kind of reward to the Palestinian leadership, in effect acknowledges that they Palestinian leaders see the terrorists as heroes and martyrs—and if that is the case, why is the United States proposing to give them a sovereign state and billions of dollars in international aid?

Finally, a word about the broader picture. Ever since 9/11, America has been locked in a global war on terror. In his famous speech to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 20, 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush said: “Our war on terror begins with Al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”

Releasing terrorists from prison—anywhere in the world—undermines the war against terrorism.

Stephen M. Flatow is a vice president of the Religious Zionists of America, an attorney in New Jersey and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. His book, “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror,” is now available on Kindle.

 

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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