Releasing Barghouti: immoral and counter-productive
Israel's controversial scheduled release of convicted Palestinian murderers has become more controversial, still, because of the demand by Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to release Marwan Barghouti. During the negotiations about Gilead Shalit’s release, Prime Minister Netanyahu firmly rejected the demand to release Barghouti. Former Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin, by contrast, called for Barghouti’s release in October 2011, and again this week in his i24news column.
By Yossi Beilin’s own admission, Barghouti is no Dalai Lama, no Gandhi, and indeed no Nelson Mandela. Beilin does not go into details of his understatement. Barghouti was the leader of the military wing of the Al-Aqsa Brigades, which carried out thousands of deadly attacks (including suicide bombings) against Israeli civilians. These deadly attacks included the murder of a Greek Orthodox monk on June 12, 2001; the murder of six Israelis during a bar-mitzvah celebration on January 7, 2002; the murder of three Israelis in a shooting spree at a Tel Aviv restaurant on March 5, 2002. Barghouti was also directly responsible for operating the terrorist cell of Raed Karmi in Tulkarem, which carried out many deadly terrorist attacks.
Three days before Yossi Beilin published his above op-ed, Alan Bauer, the victim of a terrorist attack masterminded by Barghouti, sent the following letter to President Obama: “Tomorrow will mark 12 years since our oldest son, then seven years old, and I were wounded in a suicide bombing in downtown Jerusalem. Yehonathan had the head of a screw pass fully through his right brain, while I had two screws pass through my left arm. The role of Marwan Barghouti in this attack was revealed in indictments against the heads of the Fatah terror cell behind the attack … We cannot re-wind the clock and make the injuries and suffering disappear; the one thing we can do is to pursue justice and to do everything in our power to prevent terrorists from striking again.”
Beilin advocates Barghouti’s release because he believes that Barghouti is one of the rare Palestinian leaders who can “sell his people on a peace agreement with Israel.” Beilin does not even bother to address the moral issue of pardoning a murder for the sake of reaching a hypothetical peace agreement. Neither does he provide any evidence that Barghouti would be able and willing to “sell his people on a peace agreement with Israel.”
Beilin’s contention that Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount “sparked the second intifada” is factually wrong. This claim was dismissed by the Mitchell Report of April 2001, which unequivocally stated: “The Sharon visit did not cause the Al-Aqsa Intifada.” On 6 December 2000, PA minister Imad Faluji declared in Al-Ayyam that “the Palestinian Authority began preparing the present intifada and bracing for it since the return from Camp David at the request of President Yasser Arafat, who envisaged the intifada as a complementary measure to the Palestinian steadfastness in the negotiations and not as a protest over Sharon’s visit to al-Haram al-Sharif.”
Beilin is also wrong when he writes that Barghouti got “caught up in the violent escalation of the second intifada.” On March 4, 2000 (four months before the Camp David summit), Barghouti declared in an interview to Akhbar al-Khalil: “Whoever thinks that the issues of the final-status agreement … can be resolved by negotiations alone is deluding himself … The negotiations over these issues must be accompanied by a campaign on the ground, that is, a confrontation. We need dozens of campaigns like the 1996 al-Aqsa tunnel.” Beilin claims that Barghouti sees in an agreement with Israel “a paramount Palestinian interest.” But which kind of agreement? For Barghouti, such agreement must include the “return” of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants to Israel (interview on Israel’s Channel 2 TV, 18 October 2000).
Beilin's wrong assessments and unsubstantiated claims were proven disastrous with the Oslo Accords. But at least, Beilin himself expressed his own doubts when those agreements were signed. In an interview he gave the Maariv daily on November 26, 1993, Beilin declared that “should it transpire that [the Palestinians] fail to stem terrorism, then [Oslo] will have to be regarded as a temporary agreement, and with all the difficulty involved, we will have no choice but to renege on it.”
Beilin never acted on his own warning after the Oslo agreement produced a massive wave of terrorism (including during the 1992-1996 Labor government). Instead, Beilin has spent the past two decades blaming his blunder on technicalities.
In his book "Touching Peace" Beilin explains that the Yom Kippur War shattered his faith in Israel’s leaders. But with the passing of time and with the tragic outcome of his political theories, Beilin has come to incarnate, and even to surpass, the hubris and dogmatism of leaders he rightfully criticized as a youngster.
Emmanuel Navon heads the Political Science and Communication Department at the Jerusalem Orthodox College and teaches International Relations at Tel-Aviv University and the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. He is a Senior Fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum.