Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his cabinet have found a unique way to celebrate the Islamic holiday of Id al-Adha, the "Festival of the Sacrifice," that commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son. But instead of slaughtering lambs or goats, as millions of Muslims throughout the world will do starting Sunday, Israel's leaders are prepared to sacrifice the lives of countless innocent Israelis.
Olmert's willingness to free terrorists in exchange for our kidnapped soldiers, along with his newest plan to release terrorists as a goodwill gesture to PA President Mahmoud Abbas before the Muslim holiday, will cause more Israeli deaths than if he were to hand a terrorist a loaded gun.
Freeing terrorists by giving in to blackmail empowers an entire generation of terrorists with the knowledge that their actions have no lasting consequences, and that even the toughest Israeli prison sentence will never be permanent. They just have to wait for their fellow terrorists to kidnap another Israeli hostage, and kill a few more in the process. Then freedom will just be a matter of time.
It's important to recognize that Israel's past behavior has repeatedly proved the effectiveness of these murder-kidnappings and caused them to become an integral component of Palestinian policy and strategy.
WHEN ISRAEL released 400 terrorists in exchange for the freedom of Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah, PA leaders were quick to recognize the effectiveness of Hizbullah's strategy:
"Fatah's military branch organized a civilian and military parade yesterday… in gratitude for the efforts Hizbullah made for the release of Arab and Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails as part of the prisoner exchange deal with Israel. In a public statement…Fatah's military wing emphasized the need to follow Hizbullah's example to achieve the release of all prisoners." (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, January 29, 2004).
The recurring theme of public proclamations in the months before the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev confirms that Israel's previous surrenders to blackmail have made kidnapping a cornerstone of PA policy:
"Islamic Jihad: Kidnapping of Israeli soldiers - the fastest way to the release of prisoners" (Al-Ayyam, May 9, 2006).
Said Siam, PA Minister of the Interior: "In the past, Hamas managed to kidnap many Zionist soldiers… I believe that there is no other choice than kidnapping soldiers and exchanging them [for prisoners]" (Abu Dhabi TV, January 2006).
"[PA Foreign Minister] Mahmoud Al-Zahar, said that his movement [Hamas] would not hesitate to kidnap soldiers in order to exchange them for prisoners" (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, March 7, 2006).
IF ISRAEL releases more terrorists this week there will be four waves of Israeli victims - starting with Gilad Shalit.
Israel hoped that Hamas would eventually lower its demands for Shalit's release and be satisfied with the symbolic victory of securing the freedom of a modest number of terrorist prisoners. By releasing terrorists to Abbas without getting anything in return, however, Olmert is forcing Hamas to raise the stakes and lessening Shalit's chance of early release.
As part of its escalating power struggle with Abbas and his Fatah faction, Hamas must be seen to win more concessions from Israel than its rival. Whatever number of terrorists Abbas receives gratis, Hamas will have to hold out for many times that number. Whatever the crimes committed by the terrorists released to Abbas, Hamas will demand the release of even more dangerous criminals.
The result will certainly be much longer and harder negotiations, with Hamas's demands possibly becoming higher than even Olmert can accept. If Shalit is lucky this will merely extend his ordeal by months or years. If Olmert's goodwill gamble fails, Shalit could well become the next Ron Arad.
The second wave of victims will be the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Israelis who stand to be killed and maimed by these released terrorists. According to a September 2006 report by the Almagor Terror Victims Association, at least 14 major terrorist attacks in recent years - accounting for 123 murdered Israelis - were carried out by terrorists released from prison through various "goodwill gestures" and Israeli prisoner deals.
These terrorists may not have had "blood on their hands" when they were first released, but they were quick to sign their freedom with the blood of Israeli citizens. So will some of the terrorists Olmert is poised to release this week.
The third wave of victims will be all those killed by a new generation of terrorists empowered and emboldened by the images of "heroic" prisoners carried aloft as they step to freedom, laughing and cheering Israel's weakness and surrender.
And the fourth wave will be those soldiers and civilians who fall victim to the kidnappings and murders that will continue as long as Israel keeps proving to terrorists and their handlers that this tactic works.
OLMERT HAS a unique opportunity to break this cycle of killings, kidnappings and ransom by rejecting all attempts at this kind of blackmail, thereby depriving Palestinian terrorists of one of their favorite weapons.
But instead, he appears so intent on demonstrating what he describes as "flexibility and generosity" that he ignores the reality of the deadly consequences his actions will inevitably have.
"It is customary to make such a gesture on Id el-Adha," Olmert said of his desire to time the prisoner release to coincide with Islam's Festival of the Sacrifice. But it's time for Israel's leaders to stop doing what is "customary," and start doing what is right.
As Olmert and his cabinet prepare to make the ultimate sacrifice - with the lives of other people's children - they might want to recall that at the end of the biblical story, at the very last moment, God called off the sacrifice and saved an entire nation. It's not too late for them to do the same.
Itamar Marcus is director and Barbara Crook associate director of Palestinian Media Watch.