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Ministers to Relax Criteria For Release of Terrorist Murderers

Ministers met Monday to narrow the definition of terrorists with "blood on their hands," hoping to swap Marwan Barghouti for Gilad Shalit.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 12/24/2007, 9:56 AM / Last Update: 12/24/2007, 4:36 PM

Ministers met Monday morning to broaden the range of terrorists Israel may release in an effort to include arch-terrorist Marwan Barghouti. To do so they are considering narrowing the definition of the term "blood on their hands," to no longer include the one who gave the order.

Barghouti has headed every prisoner release list demanded by the Palestinian Authority in negotiations with Israel. The Tanzim terrorist leader is serving five life sentences in Israeli prison for master-minding attacks that killed five Israelis and wounded many more. Tanzim is affiliated with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction. 

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was scheduled to meet with the group, which included Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, Vice Premier Chaim Ramon, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and Minister without Portfolio Ami Ayalon. Livni later met with the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to update its members on the discussions that took place between the ministers.

Committee head and Kadima Knesset Member Tzachi HaNegbi told Arutz 7's Israel National Radio flatly that he opposed relaxing the definition of what constitutes "blood on the hands" of terrorists. "I object to the release of murderers. A murderer is a murderer regardless of legal definitions. I hope there will be no relaxation of the term 'murderer.' Anyone who murdered Jews belongs under lock and key. There can be no concession or flexibility in this matter."

Likud Knesset Member Yuval Steinitz, a member of the committee, also expressed outrage in an interview with Voice of Israel government radio after the meeting. "According to the government's new formulae, a killer is no longer a killer and the terrorist Palestinian Authority is a peace partner," he said.

Left-wing Meretz Knesset Member Avshalom Vilan was in favor of the idea. "Israel should stop dealing with definitions and rigid standards," he said. "In Israel too there are fighters who killed terrorists and can be considered as those with 'blood on their hands.' We call them terrorists but they [PA Arabs] call them freedom fighters."

It is hoped that the move which would allow for the release of terrorists who until now were considered off-limits for prisoner release deals would help win the release of IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit. Ayalon, a former chief of the General Security Services (Shin Bet) criticized his former agency as having "failed" the captive soldier. Talks between Israel and Hamas terrorists who kidnapped Shalit in June 2006, mediated by Egyptian officials, are reportedly progressing rapidly as the negotiations focus on how many terrorist prisoners Hamas will demand Israel free in a swap for Shalit.

Labor Knesset Member said the move would increase the chances of success in rescuing Shalit, saying "if we continue with the criteria that were used in the past, there will be no one else left to free. If we want to free prisoners," he told IDF Army Radio, "and bring about the release of Gilad Shalit, we will have to broaden this."

Vice Premier and Gil Pensioners' party member Rafi Eitan told Voice of Israel government radio that he also supports the move because, he said, it would give negotiators "effective tools to work with." He added that in any case, many of those who would be released under the relaxed standards would be back in Israeli jails because they are "likely to resume their life of terrorism."

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai is advocating for Barghouti's release. Vilnai said in a Monday morning radio interview with Kol Israel that Israel could potentially free the murderer in a future deal with Palestinian Authority terrorists.

Vilnai claimed that Barghouti could be released in a deal with the PA because he ordered the deadly attacks, but did not personally carry them out.  According to current definitions, terrorists who were involved in attacks that killed Israelis have “blood on their hands” and are not usually released. 

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has often tried to pressure Israel in talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to release Barghouti, who was elected to the PA Legislative Council in absentia and who is seen by many PA Arabs as a national hero. Polls have ranked him as the third most popular choice for PA leader.

MK Uri Ariel (NU/NRP) said on Monday that the government’s plan to redefine the term "murderer" will only lead to more violence and more terrorism.

Michael Freund, former aide to PM Binyamin Netanyahu, harshly criticized the relaxation of criteria for freeing murderers:

Swinging open the jail cells and letting killers walk is not an act of compassion or even political savvy. It is showing kindness to the cruel, and broadcasting a dangerous message to all of our foes: namely, that they can act with virtual impunity.

What Mr. Olmert seems to have forgotten is that "Law and Order" is not just a television show - it is a building block of society. And it weakens us all when those who commit the most heinous of crimes are allowed to escape the punishment they so justly deserve.