When Frazier Glenn Cross is convicted of murder for gunning down physician William Corporon, his 14-year-old grandson Reat Griffin, and occupational therapist Terry LaManno, at the Jewish community facilities of Kansas City on Sunday, he will, at the very least, be jailed for life with no possibility of parole. The capital murder charge with which he has been indicted also carries the possibility of the death penalty.
When the gunman who opened fire indiscriminately on Israeli vehicles outside Hebron on Passover eve a day later, killing Baruch Mizrahi, is tracked down and arrested — as he almost certainly will be, given the Israeli security forces’ astounding record of locating West Bank terrorists — he will face a very different set of consequences.
If experience is any guide, the Israeli judge will impose a similarly severe sentence to his or her American counterpart in the Kansas City hate crime case. The West Bank murderer will be told that he has destroyed an innocent family and will be condemned for the cold-blooded viciousness of his crime. He will then be sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars — both because that is the price society requires him to pay for his act of appalling evil, and because that is where he needs to be so that the rest of us are safe from his demonstrably murderous inclinations and capabilities.
Except that this ostensible mighty gravity of the Israeli justice system is a chimera. For all the formal severity of trial, verdict and sentence, the Hebron killer — who, again if experience is any guide, will treat the court with machoistic contempt, asserting that Israel has no authority over him — will have every reason to feel bold and uncaring. As we know, and as he knows, he need have no concern about spending the rest of his life in jail, or anything like the rest of his life.
Israel’s shambolic, self-defeating tradition of prisoner “exchanges” and releases over the decades has made clear to every potential Palestinian terrorist killer that he or she can reasonably expect to return to the heroic embrace of family and friends within just a few years. Israel’s policy is one of suffering the crime without meting out the punishment, setting free today’s killers and emboldening tomorrow’s, so disrespecting itself as to liberate those who take away its citizens lives in order that they may do so again.
Israel’s policy is one of suffering the crime without meting out the punishment, setting free today’s killers and emboldening tomorrow’s
Almost all Israelis have long since recognized that this has to stop. The Winograd Commission that investigated 2006’s Second Lebanon War urged that Israel put an end to these “crazy deals.” More than a decade earlier, a certain Benjamin Netanyahu had written in his book “Fighting Terrorism,” that “Among the most important policies which must be adopted in the face of terrorism is the refusal to release convicted terrorists from prisons. This is a mistake that Israel, once the leader in anti-terror techniques, has made over and over again… Prisoner releases only embolden terrorists by giving them the feeling that even if they are caught their punishment will be brief. Worse, by leading terrorists to think such demands are likely to be met, they encourage precisely the kind of terrorist blackmail which they are supposed to defuse.” Quite so.
It is frankly impossible to reconcile the clear thinking of Netanyahu 1995 with the muddled leadership of Netanyahu 2013 who, rather than facilitate peace talks by the simple and reversible expedient of freezing settlement expansion and acknowledging the indisputable fact that Israel is negotiating on the basis of the pre-1967 lines, as Mahmoud Abbas had demanded, chose to capitulate to the least palatable of Abbas’s preconditions: releasing pre-Oslo era Palestinian terror convicts. The four-phased deal to free some of the most evil killers was a terrible mistake from the start — and not only with the benefit of hindsight, with the peace process in tatters because Israel balked at the final hurdle, refusing to release Israeli-Arabs without at least Abbas’s confirmation that he’d deign to keep on talking past April.
What did it say about Abbas and Palestinian society that he wanted these killers set free at the start of a negotiating exercise in which he has proved predictably obdurate, rather than as the concluding act of a genuine process of reconciliation? What it did say about Israel that our government enabled the humiliating process?
Netanyahu surrendered the pre-Oslo killers, in willful negation of his own articulate 1995 anti-terror stance, because of his abiding unwillingness to rein in the settlement enterprise, combined with the demands of coalition and international politics: He didn’t think he’d have a majority to freeze the settlements (though he might well have mustered one had he stood up to Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett threats), couldn’t say no to peace talks (though he could have argued more strenuously to Secretary of State John Kerry that the US should not be pressing Israel to indulge Abbas’s demand for terrorist releases when the US would not itself countenance such a move), and thus purportedly had no choice but to let the killers go free.
But that reasoning was never good enough. Netanyahu telling Israelis he was setting free the hardcore terrorists “for the good of the country” was no explanation at all. And his history of “punishing” acts of terrorism by approving still more settlement building only adds insult to injury.
A government that betrays its primary obligation, to protect its citizens, has no right to govern. The Netanyahu government lost that right when it sanctioned the phased program of prisoner releases.
Israel has a profound interest in reaching an accommodation with the Palestinians. It cannot impose viable terms on a Palestinian leadership that refuses to accept them, but there are steps it could take to create a climate more conducive to progress. It could prioritize the imperative for the security forces to prevent radical settlers’ acts of violence against Palestinians (and, as at Yitzhar last week, against the IDF). It could revive the joint Israeli-Palestinian committee that was set up to tackle the very incitement that Netanyahu rightly blamed for the toxic atmosphere that encourages acts like the murder of Baruch Mizrahi. And it could freeze settlement building in areas Israel does not envisage retaining under a permanent accord. This would give the too few moderates on the Palestinian side of the divide credibility when they argue that Israel seeks peace, show Israelis the contours of a possible accord, and enable Israel to present a coherent international argument about its territorial security requirements.
Given Abbas’s evident inflexibility at the negotiating table, none of these measures would likely clear a path to a dramatic accommodation in the near future. But they would help toward that goal.
And the simultaneous end to any thought of releasing Palestinian terrorists before the completion of their legally mandated terms would restore the credibility of our justice system, and avoid the betrayal of the victims’ families. It would, crucially, begin the process of deterring future killers. And it would start to reverse the sense of defeatism and revive Israel’s self-respect, itself an essential component of national resilience, restoring to Israelis their belief in their government’s capacity to uphold national interests on the world stage in general and regarding the peace process in particular.
If Netanyahu is not prepared to lead in these critical areas, he has no right to be prime minister. And if he won’t put the protection of Israel’s citizens first, he should vacate the seat in favor of someone who will. He derides the US for its ostensible weakness in international affairs, and most especially when it comes to thwarting Iran, but America doesn’t capitulate to terrorism. Netanyahu does.