Former Israeli Security Agency (ISA or Shin Bet) head Yuval Diskin strongly criticized the practice of releasing terrorists as a preconditon to peace talks, and joined left-wing MKs in suggesting that a building freeze in Judea and Samaria is a better option for "gestures" to the Palestinian Authority (PA).
"We should remember that this terrorist release move would not have taken place at the current timing and could have been postponed to advanced stages of the negotiations, had there been a willingness to freeze settlement construction – even temporarily," Diskin claimed, in an article published in Yediot Aharonot on Monday.
"Such a move could have been of great value to the Palestinians, and I believe it contains diplomatic and political logic, not to mention the fact that it is a reversible move which could be canceled later on – unlike the release of terrorists."
Diskin also attacked the leadership of the Jewish Home party and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu - as he has in the past - and noted that the first batch of terrorist releases was carried out relatively quietly. According to Diskin, this was due to a political deal between the Prime Minister and Jewish Home - the latter of which plays a large role in resistance to the terrorist releases, in his words.
"The first stage of the terrorist release went by relatively peacefully, mainly due to a political deal which was likely devised between the prime minister and the leader of Jewish Home, the party which is now playing the role of leading the opposition to the release," he accused. "As part of the deal, Jewish Home would turn a blind eye to the deeply controversial release in exchange for 'hush money' in the form of new settlement construction bids for every stage."
The claim that the Jewish Home agreed to a prisoner release in exchange for continued construction in Judea and Samaria has been strenuously denied by the party. The Palestinian Authority has similarly denied that any such deal ever took place, and insists that Israel must freeze all construction in Judea-Samaria if talks are to continue beyond the end of April.
It is worth noting, however, that a "settlement freeze" was never stipulated as a precondition to the current talks.
Diskin stressed that he is "firmly against releasing terrorists under pressure or under extortion of any kind of terror attack for the purpose of bargaining, even at the cost of failing to free a kidnapped soldier or citizen" and noted that he is "saying this as a father to three children who are serving simultaneously in IDF combat units."
"I believe that even if this decision is completely legal as far as the government is concerned, such a release under pressure impairs the State of Israel's deterrence ability, conveys weakness, encourages additional acts of terror for the purpose of bargaining, re-strengthens the terror infrastructures and seriously hurts the feelings of the terror victims' families and broad parts of the Israeli public," he continued.
"On the other hand, I do believe that in special cases a government can make a decision to release terrorists – at its own initiative – in order to advance a peace process, but not under extortion or pressure from a terror organization or a different country."
"In light of its high public sensitivity, such a move should be postponed as much as possible to the latest stages of the negotiations when there have already been significant achievements or progress and when it can be explained to the public and to the families of terror victims."
"No comparison" between Jewish, Arab terrorists
Turning to calls for the government to "balance-out" any release of Arab terrorists by releasing the handful of Jewish terrorists currently in Israeli jails, Diskin said the two cases cannot be compared.
"I also find serious fault in the idea to bind the release of Palestinian terrorists with the release of Jewish terrorists. I see no justification for terror attacks committed by Jewish citizens of the State of Israel, a country which has a strong army, a security agency, a secret service and a police," he declared. "When the state's citizens take the law into their hands and use terror against innocent people, they are committing a serious and dangerous act like no other, and should be treated with extra severity."
"A merciful attitude towards such cases, as we have already seen in the State of Israel in the 'Jewish Underground' case, is wrong, and could encourage a repeat of this outline and undermines our moral justification for seriously punishing those involved in terror on the Palestinian side," he continued. "And so, political deals which bind the release of Jewish terrorists in order to 'sweeten the bitter pill' of releasing Palestinian terrorists are fundamentally wrong in my opinion."
Diskin concluded the article by saying that a freeze would continue talks with the PA while also breaking "a situation of an ongoing act of terror for the purpose of bargaining, without any real return in the form of peace," in his words. To him, the move would save both sides from admitting that "talks are a failure" and the Israeli public from confusion over the releases, which he notes "have lacked any diplomatic benefit so far."