Yesterday's decision by the security cabinet to approve the Egyptian-German initiative to release 20 Palestinian female prisoners and detainees in exchange for a sign of life from kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit is not a balanced deal. For a piece of information, Israel is paying in "hard currency" - people who were convicted or are suspected of hostile acts against its citizens.
Some will certainly argue that willingness to release the Palestinian women in exchange for a videotape sends a message of weakness to the opposing side. Others will say the deal will encourage Hamas toward greater price gouging and inflate the list of Palestinian prisoners the organization wants in exchange for Shalit.
Still, no step toward the release of the soldier who fell into the enemy's hands three and a half years ago will be an economical deal. Israel has more than once paid a high price for its captured soldiers, and even for bodies and body parts of the dead. This is not the first time it will have paid for information about a captured or missing soldier.
Grave apprehension stemming from a lack of certainty about Shalit's mental and physical well-being have been added to anxiety over his fate and longing for him. Watching the tape might somewhat ease the suffering of his loved ones. Concern over his fate has long expanded beyond the circle of his family and friends. Multitudes of Israelis hope for the return of the soldier from Mitzpe Hila to his family and country, and will be relieved to see and hear the young man whose face is now familiar to everyone in Israel.
After the deal was reported, Gilad's father Noam said, and rightly so, that the tape is not a substitute for the release of his son. But hopefully the release of the Palestinian women will increase pressure on the families of the Hamas prisoners to spur the talks forward and complete the deal to release Shalit in exchange for their sons imprisoned in Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision to agree to the new initiative a "confidence-building measure" in the indirect negotiations with Hamas. It is reasonable to assume that documented proof that Shalit is still alive will encourage the government to go another step further and pay the set price to extricate him and end this painful affair.
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