The government's decision to release 500 terrorists from prison raises a number of profound concerns about the direction the newfound friendship between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas – the democratically elected legitimate leader of the reformed, democratic and anti-terrorist Palestinian Authority – is taking.
Abbas is well regarded because he has made a number of statements saying the time of the so-called armed intifada has passed. His call for a temporary cease-fire by Palestinian terror groups in exchange for a general amnesty of terror commanders from Israel has been greeted with exultation by breathless diplomats yearning for a return to the days when "historic" summits and secret talks in European five-star hotels were a routine occurrence.
The government has defended its decision to free 500 terrorists and to stop chasing down terrorist fugitives by claiming that these policies are needed to shore up Abbas's legitimacy among the Palestinian rank and file.
But this raises an obvious question. Why does Abbas, who (according to the so-called international community) was legitimately and overwhelmingly elected in a free and open and democratic election, need legitimacy? Isn't the 66 percent of the vote he garnered in a more or less uncontested race legitimacy enough?
Sharon said last week that Israel will, for the first time, be crossing one of the only remaining "red lines" that has been maintained since the days when we could still refer to red lines without cynicism. Sharon has agreed to release terrorists found guilty of murdering Israeli citizens.
Speaking to his favorite radical left-wing "reporter" Yoel Marcus from Haaretz, Sharon explained that the issue of releasing murderers is of "decisive importance" to Abbas and his deputies and that Israel just has to do this for them to ensure the stability of their new legitimate, democratically elected, anti-terror, reformed regime.
But something is amiss here. If Abbas is supposed to be convincing the Palestinians that they have to reject terrorism, it seems odd for him to be insisting that Israel conduct a mass release of convicted terrorists, let alone murderers. Abbas justifies this demand by claiming that these men and women are Palestinian heroes and that his people won't accept their remaining in prison.
Yet his acceptance of the notion that these war criminals are heroes of the Palestinian people makes it hard to imagine that he has anything but admiration for the crimes they committed – namely acts of terrorism against Israelis. Far from opposing terrorism and being poised to purge the scourge from Palestinian society, in his first act as the legitimate, democratically elected, anti-terror, reform leader, Abbas is sticking out his neck to support terrorism.
Sharon, like IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen.l Moshe Ya'alon, further defends his support for releasing murderers by espousing the Abbasian (nee Arafatian) contention that it is inconsistent and therefore unjustifiable for Israel to agree to meet with these inmates' "commanders" – that is, Abbas and his deputies – while continuing to punish these "poor things" who were merely the foot soldiers of the revolution.
One senior military official warned last week that an Israeli refusal to accept this contention could lead to a "symmetric" Palestinian demand that Israeli soldiers be tried for murder for having killed Palestinians.
These views are disturbing for two reasons. First, they are morally reprehensible and mark a stunning abandonment of self-respect and national honor by Sharon and his followers. Comparing Israel's right to bring terrorists to justice to the malicious Palestinian libels against IDF soldiers' conduct in fighting Palestinian terrorists is morally bankrupt and represents an abandonment of Israel's inherent right to defend its citizens from perpetrators of crimes against humanity.
The second reason why Sharon and Ya'alon's support for the release of terrorists is jarring is because it constitutes an Israeli acceptance of the Palestinian claim that the use of terror against Israel is legitimate. This point is made even more abundantly clear by Israel's mute acceptance of Abbas's plan to integrate Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad into the official PA militias and bureaucracies.
Abbas justifies his refusal to destroy the terror groups and infrastructures by claiming that he does not have the power to do so. Given that in the Gaza municipal elections three weeks ago Hamas beat Abbas's Fatah party with 70 percent of the vote, he may be right. But then, if he is incapable of fighting terrorism, what good is he?
If the results of the vote – which mark the first time that Hamas has ever openly competed with Fatah – reflect the sentiments of the Palestinian people, it is clear that they have no interest in either purging themselves of terror or of living peacefully with Israel – and therefore Israel should be giving them nothing.
On the sidelines of the government's decision to release the 500 terrorists was a separate decision to allow the terrorists deported from Bethlehem in 2002 – after they took over, desecrated and laid siege to the Church of the Nativity for 39 days – to return to the city and face no charges for their crimes. This decision has the Christians of Bethlehem in a blind panic.
Back in 2002, the members of this gang summarily executed more than a dozen Christians, including children. They raped Christian girls, took over Christian homes in Beit Jala to fire at Israelis in Jerusalem, extorted money from Christian businessmen and expropriated Christian-owned farmlands.
As one Christian put it at the time of their deportation, "They hate us Christians more than they love Palestine."
Yet, at Abbas' insistence, and in the interest of bucking up his legitimate, democratically elected, anti-terror, reform minded regime, Israel has decided to let these war criminals come home to a hero's welcome.
After two years of rest and relaxation in Europe, they will no doubt resume their campaign to destroy all vestiges of Christianity in Bethlehem in no time at all.
It isn't that the government has completely abandoned the fight against Israel's enemies. After all, today everyone from Sharon to Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra is calling for the state to place those who oppose the newfound friendship with Abbas too loudly or obnoxiously in administrative detention… if they're Jews, that is.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.