In response to my previous post, Gavin wonders if perhaps Israel should have made a big show of having the PA arrest the killers, rather than go in and kill them, which doesn't look good to him. My inclination is always to listen respectfully to Gavin, since his perspective is so different than mine.
On an emotional level, I recognize the simple satisfaction these deaths give me: three terrorists who will never be set free in some future exchange of 1,456 Palestinians for two kidnapped Israelis who have been kept totally incommunicado for years by their Palestinian captors. Yet I also know that gratifying as such sentiments may be, they're not particularly laudable. Killing your enemy in battle is what battle is about; arresting criminals and bringing them to justice is what police-work is about - and this case falls somewhere in between.
The IDF seems to recognize this. Throughout the 2nd Intifada, targeted assassinations of Palestinian terrorists became ever more rare in the West Bank, as the Israelis reasserted their direct control after relinquishing it in the 1990s, and they were increasingly able to arrest their targets. Meanwhile, in Gaza the option of arrest basically didn't exist and targeted killings were the norm.
The option of having the Palestinians arrest and try these men doesn't exist. True, as Gavin points out, the PA has capital punishment - but not for attacking Israelis. Capital punishment in the PA is mostly for suspected collaboration with Israel. The possibility that Palestinian killers of an Israeli settler would be brought to justice and serve their sentence in the PA is non-existent.
This leaves the option of the IDF arresting the killers, a capacity that clearly exists since Israel arrests terror suspects at will throughout the West Bank. That's who those 1,000 prisoners being demanded by Hamas in exchange for Gilad Shalit are: Palestinian activists and killers who have been arrested and tried by Israel. The knee-jerk reaction of B'Tselem yesterday is to be understood in this context: They're saying these three men ought to have been arrested, not killed.
What it boils down to are two issues:
1. Would it have been possible for the ID to arrest, not kill these men?
2. If it were possible, was there a decision, or even only a trigger-happiness, that encouraged the IDF to kill them quickly?
I wasn't there, nor was B'Tselem nor any other media outlet - nor was Salam Fayad, the Palestinian prime minister. So none of us have the full facts. Ultimately, it was probably a spilt-second decision of the commanders on the spot. Still, it's worth keeping in mind that the arrests were being made in the Casbah of Nablus, a warren of alleys, jumbled homes, passages, and an occasional tunnel (one of the men was killed inside one of them); even back in the 1980s, when there was no PA and Israel controlled the town itself, the Casbah wasn't the kind of place policemen or soldiers simply strolled through.