Ariel Sharon has just signaled that he would violate one of the few remaining hard principles of Israeli diplomacy, stating in an interview with Haaretz that he would be willing to release Palestinian prisoners who carried out violent attacks, should the proposed disengagement from Gaza go forward without terrorist disruption.
The stupidity of this is just frightening. Israel has for a long time now refused to release Palestinians "with blood on their hands," for obvious reasons. Those who were released at the beginning of the Oslo period were very quickly back to their old tricks, and many of them ended up being assassinated in the past few years. (One spectacular example was Shaikh Yaasin of Hamas.)
Moreover, I can tell you right now what's going to happen. Abbas will give his "assurances," Hamas and Hizbullah will go ahead with their planned attacks anyway (just as they are doing right now), and when Sharon balks at releasing the prisoners, the world will jump all over him for "going back on his obligations." It has happened so many times before, it would be hilarious if it were not so disgusting.
Ariel Sharon is in a tough position. He is going ahead with the Gaza disengagement in the face of adamant opposition from his own party, which he was quashed in a dictatorial manner that has many of the party leadership livid. The IDF has advised him that it is militarily impossible to protect the retreating settlers without large-scale incursions into the heart of Gaza City and elsewhere, and he has ignored them. Hamas and Hizbullah are calling this a "second Lebabon" and plan to launch massive attacks on the retreating forces, just as they did in Lebabon duing Ehud Barak's withdrawl, to reinforce the impression that Israel is retreating under fire. Sharon absolutely cannot afford that, and is desperate to bring the terror groups under control.
But in pledging to release prisoners with blood on their hands, Sharon has placed himself in an incredibly weak position. I cannot imagine, given the extremely low probability that Abbas will actually follow up on his end, that it was worth it. Sharon's diplomacy is just getting more and more desperate and irrational. Someone in Likud needs to get him under control now, before it's too late.