Rethinking the punishment policy

Israel has repeatedly caved in to terrorists while failing to reward Palestinian moderation

With the horrific discovery of the bodies of the three Israeli teenagers, the time has now come for Israel to crystallize an iron-clad policy of not negotiating with terrorists in future. Call it the Netanyahu Doctrine. This is the most effective long-term strategy to inoculate against a reprise of this abhorrent crime. At the same time, Israel should, and is likely to, exercise restraint in response to the murders.

The absence of a definitive policy relating to kidnappings of Israelis has been an abject failure. We see this in Hamas’s reflexive reaction to the murders: moments after news broke that the bodies were found, a Hamas MP wrote on his Facebook page, “Better luck next time, God willing.” Today, the organization vowed that there would assuredly be future kidnappings.

Hamas may be a mob of unlettered fundamentalist lunatics, but they do not operate in a vacuum. Three years ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu traded over 1000 terrorists for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier Hamas held captive for five years in Gaza.

Many of these terrorists had committed spine-chilling crimes – one of them was Amna Muna, the woman who had lured 15-year old Ofir Rahum to Jerusalem by developing an online romantic relationship with him, spiriting him off to Ramallah where he was shot to death at close range. Another prisoner released in the Shalit deal was Abdel Aziz Salha, who beat, stabbed, gouged out the eyes, and disemboweled two Israeli reservists who accidentally entered Ramallah. He proudly held up his blood-stained hands to the riotous crowd below, in one of the most iconic images of the Second Intifada.

abdel aziz salha
The Ramallah lynching, 2000.

Israelis, taking leave of their senses, celebrated the return of Shalit as if there were no tomorrow, paying lip service to the heavy price to which Israel was submitting itself. Shalit had become identified as “everyone’s son,” and Netanyahu ultimately could not resist the public pressure. The deal was supported by 80% of the country at the time.

But the Shalit deal was an unmitigated policy disaster, because, as even the Israeli military has noted, it amplified the existing message: that kidnapping Israelis was a lucrative pastime. It defied logic, as many commentators noted: not only would the deal encourage still more kidnappings, but the odds were that at least one of the prisoners would kill at least one Israeli, undermining the very calculus of and rationale for the deal.

Over the last two months, both predicted nightmares came to pass. Gilad, Eyal and Naftali were kidnapped by terrorist opportunists and murdered almost immediately afterward when the situation became too dangerous. And one of the prisoners released in the Shalit deal murdered an off-duty cop.

It is precisely now, at the height of the fury over the deaths of the three teens, that Israel must institute an unshakeable policy: no negotiations with terrorists. No prisoner swaps will ever again be done in exchange for kidnapped Israelis. Israel must declare and re-declare its commitment to this new doctrine, and it must steadfastly refuse to negotiate over hostages no matter the future pressures. Only this can deter Hamas and its kindreds from trying this tactic in future.

Make no mistake, the country is furious right now. The pages of Yediot Ahronot, the best-known national tabloid, have been filled cover-to-cover with stories about the three boys. The public had been led to believe the boys might be alive, and were not prepared for the virtual certainty, given the circumstances, that our worst fears had been realized. Calls for revenge abound on social media, though in the press the response has been remarkably muted, and the security cabinet decided to abstain from an immediate response.

This moderation is impressive and critical. Undoubtedly, the perpetrators should be hunted down and punished to the full extent of the law, and the re-arrests of mainly Hamas prisoners who had been freed in the Shalit deal are a good thing.

But revenge will not serve any purpose beyond sating the bloodlust of an angry populace. The Palestinian Authority has been fully cooperative, and President Abbas made an unprecedented, historic condemnation of the kidnapping.

By adopting this prospective Netanyahu Doctrine of not negotiating with terrorists, and simultaneously avoiding the impulse for revenge, Israel would be sending a clear message: it will not tolerate the kidnapping of its citizens, but it will also not punish the Palestinians collectively for every maniac who murders Israelis. Terrorist opportunism will not be rewarded, but Palestinian moderation and an inclination toward peace will be.

Neither the unmitigated iron fist nor unqualified pacifism will achieve Israel’s objectives. Instead, an iron fist should be wielded against terrorists, while Israel should make it known that it will warmly embrace peacemakers.

About the Author
Gabriel Sassoon is a writer and public affairs consultant. He has served Israel's Foreign Ministry while based in New York, and in Tel Aviv as foreign media advisor to former Knesset Deputy Speaker Hilik Bar. He served as English Campaign Coordinator and Foreign Media Advisor for the Israeli Labor Party in two national elections. The views expressed above are his alone.
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