Put Barghouti Back in Jail

Frimet Roth - Israelinsider - February 7, 2006

The hot and heavy courtship of Marwan Barghouti by the Israeli government is no secret.

Whether Israel was under US pressure or was drawn to the "moderate terrorist" of its own accord is now irrelevant. For while its overtures failed to trump Hamas at the polls -- they did win Barghouti the top Fatah spot.

In any sane country, no prisoner would fantasize about a lifestyle like the one Prisoner Barghouti led. Political meetings for his benefit were routine during these elections. One 30-minute phone call with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was conducted from the office of the prison warden. There were regular visits from an assortment of Palestinian officials including Arab Knesset members. Shortly before the elections, Israel Prison Service head Yaacov Ganot even authorized a series of television interviews. One was with Britain's Channel 4, in which Barghouti said: "The Palestinian people, and it should be very clear, have got the full right to resist against the Israeli military operations in the occupied territories in any way? I support the Palestinian intifada and Palestinian resistance."

The Israeli government, by its conduct toward Barghouti, proclaimed: "And so do we."

Every perk was personally approved by Mr. Ganot who nevertheless insisted that Barghouti did not "run the PA from his jail cell." Perhaps not, but only just barely.

Is it any wonder we are losing the battle against Palestinian terrorism? How does enabling a terrorist to make incendiary public addresses advance Israel's goals? All of Israel's counterterrorism tactics - construction of the security fence, periodic arrests of Palestinian terrorists, occasional targeted assassinations of terrorist leaders -- are nullified by its molly-coddling of Barghouti.

Why wouldn't a Palestinian opt for the terror route when he knows that, at the very worst, he can jump-start his political career from an Israeli prison?

It is unclear what Israel intends to do with its favorite prisoner now that he is a democratically elected parliamentarian. Two months ago, Israel's Minister for Transport, Meir Shitreet, said: "If a permanent peace deal is reached with the Palestinians, and if terrorism in the region ceases totally? we can, of course, discuss a pardon."

A pardon -- for five murders.

Shitreet then added "Never say never."

Last week, Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra told The Jerusalem Post that the government had no intention of releasing Barghouti in the near future (italics added).

The official spokesman for Israel's Prison Service, Ian Domnitz, has repeatedly referred to Barghouti benignly as a "security prisoner".

At some point in the not-too-distant future it seems clear our politicians will support Barghouti's release. Enjoying as they do 24 x 7 armed protection at the public's expense, it is perhaps easy for them to forget just what sort of prisoner Barghouti really is. How else to explain the ease with which they contemplate the early release of someone directly responsible for five murders and indirectly responsible for many more?

Once upon a time there was an iron-clad principle that Israel does not trade prisoners with "blood on their hands". This "red line" is no longer mentioned. Without fanfare or warning it has been obliterated.

There are those, like my husband and me, who find the Barghouti/Israel courtship ignoble. Our daughter, Malki, was murdered by Hamas terrorists, some of whom were subsequently sheltered personally by Mr. Barghouti. The mockery our government has been making of his sentence is an affront to Malki's memory. It also demonstrates how little her death and our grief matter to Israel's officials.

For us it is obvious, especially now after Hamas' victory, that to court Barghouti is to court disaster. The Hamas that was democratically elected is the same Hamas that murdered Malki and hundreds of other precious Jews. Its charter and stated goals have not changed one iota.

It is also the same Hamas with whom Barghouti has long had a close working relationship. Alastair Crooke, a former senior British Intelligence official, said in a private policy paper reported last week by UPI that: "The close relationship of mutual respect between Hamas and Marwan [Barghouti] has long roots that pre-date the Intifada. Neither, as far as I am aware, has made a policy statement of substance without advising the other in advance? This relationship", he concludes ". . . will be the key to the next phase of Palestinian politics."

Inexplicably, Israel has persisted in its courtship of Barghouti. Even as it reiterates its refusal to negotiate with Hamas, it enables fresh political messages from Barghouti to be beamed to the world.

Journalists everywhere ponder his future. Last week, for instance, The Independent (UK) speculated whether ". . . Mohammed Dahlan and the popular jailed West Bank leader, Marwan Barghouti might pursue the 'Kadima' option . . ." They recognize that Barghouti is still a star player in the new Middle Eastern political arena.

Barghouti's loyal wife has been campaigning in the international media for his release. Palestinian officials and some Israeli organizations have been outspoken Barghouti advocates alongside her. They make the outlandish claim that Barghouti is a moderate leader who, once released, can help balance the new Hamas majority. Some news sources have suggested that a swap of Barghouti for Jonathan Pollard is on the cards.

The Israeli government has allowed these efforts to gain dangerous momentum. It is high time for it to respond to them with an unequivocal and public denial of Barghouti's release. It should remind the amnesiac world that this "moderate politician" is a murderer as well as the confessed architect of the current Palestinian intifada.

Afterwards, it should banish him to his cell to begin serving his sentence in the manner envisaged by the judges who sentenced him.

The writer, a freelancer, lives in Jerusalem. She manages the "Therapies in the Home" program of the Malki Foundation on a volunteer basis.

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