Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has drawn his red lines. Like his predecessor Ehud Olmert, Netanyahu was forced to deliver a speech before the public yesterday while in the background the campaign for Gilad Shalit's release has been rejuvenated by the captive soldier's family.
Five days into the protest march, Netanyahu stood before television cameras and read aloud from the same piece of paper that his spokespeople and aides committed to memory and repeated to journalists as early as a week ago: There will be a deal, but not at any price. Israel will agree to release 1,000 terrorists, but not "arch-murderers." The most dangerous prisoners to be released will not be permitted to return to the West Bank. Israel needs to be careful since half of the prisoners released in previous swaps resumed their nefarious deeds.
This week Netanyahu has encountered some turbulence in the form of apparent widespread public support for the Shalit family, which is demanding a deal at any price. His stated refusal last night to yield to the Shalits' pressure has placed him on a collision course with the family for the first time.
All the parties in this affair are currently playing their roles, reading their messages from a sheet of paper in a display for all the public to see. It was almost expected that Zvi Shalit, the soldier's grandfather, raged at Netanyahu's statements yesterday by likening them to a death sentence against his grandson.
The prime minister was correct in reminding us of the prisoners released in the Elhanan Tennenbaum swap with Hezbollah, noting that they resumed their terrorist activities after being set free (yet somehow neglecting to mention that he voted in favor of the swap).
Netanyahu's statements are factually correct. A few of those released in the Tennenbaum swap, particularly Islamic Jihad operatives from the Jenin area who were then considered relatively minor cogs, quickly vaulted to the top of most wanted terrorists list for their roles in murdering dozens of Israelis.
Netanyahu said that the bone of contention centers around 125 names. Hamas submitted a list of 450 names, of whom Israel agreed to release 325. Israel then agreed to a bridging proposal by the German mediator. It was at this point last December that Hamas decided to freeze the discussions. Unless Hamas shows flexibility in its demands, it doesn't appear that Netanyahu is ready to budge.
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