Another day has passed on which the security-political cabinet convened without making a decision. Another day on which the list of 1,400 imprisoned Palestinian terrorists demanded by Hamas to bring Gilad Shalit home has not been put on the table. They sat for five hours and once again did not decide what will precede whom and who will precede what. Soon the current government will end its term, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is trying in the final moments to convince his voters that despite the Morris Talansky affair and police investigation No. 14, he was an outstanding and courageous prime minister to the end. It's like former prime minister Ariel Sharon said, "Hindsight is 20/20."
It will soon be 1,000 days that Shalit has been in captivity, and the government is still in a mess - or dilemma - about how to bring him back. It's legitimate, if not always humane, to show toughness in a deal when one soldier is involved, but what do the country's head honchos expect? To have Shalit's fate be like that of Ron Arad?
What are we waiting before? For a right-wing government to form that is likely to torpedo the deal? It should make us shudder what a National Union activist was quoted as saying: "We will give our lives to torpedo the deal." A similar stain characterized us once when in the 1956 Sinai Campaign we "forgot" to free our boys from the "stinking affair" in Cairo, when we had many prisoners to exchange, including a general.
It is legitimate to bargain over who we will or won't release in exchange for Shalit, but it is foolish at this point to link the release to the issue of the border crossings. With all due respect to Egypt, that country will not set the timetable for the release of our soldier. Shalit was abducted on Olmert's watch, and people had the impression that the prime minister would not leave his post before releasing Shalit at the "usual" and painful price. He has the support of the defense minister and the army brass. It is not clear why he changed his mind.
The debate is apparently between Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on whether to link the cease-fire with Shalit's release. The Second Lebanon War, in which 160 soldiers and civilians were killed, broke out with Olmert's consent and at his initiative, with the goal of rescuing two captives from Hezbollah. Eventually it turned out, judging by the condition of the vehicle they were kidnapped from and the amount of blood, that they were no longer alive. But Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah played his macabre game with us, that a price must be paid even for information about every body part. And in the end we paid.
On the eve of forming a new government even this lofty goal of redeeming a prisoner is liable to turn very quickly into a war of the Jews. The claims to the effect that Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, conducts negotiations independently in Cairo, and is dragging Olmert into agreements he doesn't want, reflect the tension between Olmert and Barak. Knowing the high price that will be paid for Shalit, the impression is that Olmert is having second thoughts and wants to leave the issue to his successor.
Attorney Uri Slonim, who has been involved in hostage exchanges for years, says Shalit is one of the few cases in which at least there was no need to first ask for a sign of life. Another thing: The negotiations over his release are taking place after a war, after which it is customary to exchange prisoners. After destroying Gaza you are engaging in a humanitarian gesture - whose main feature is an exchange of prisoners, including some who have been in jail here for years.
The problem is that they have one captive and we have about 12,000 "captives" - from car thieves to murderers who have been sentenced to several terms of life imprisonment and are being held here in reasonable conditions.
The thought that we will keep them here forever is not logical. If after their release they go back to their old ways, we can assassinate them. Incidentally, not every released captive/prisoner is against us in principle. The fact is that Jibril Rajoub, Mohammed Dahlan and many others supported the agreements.
But most important, says Slonim, is the unwritten agreement between the state and its soldiers: The soldier promises to fight and the state is obligated to bring him back home. This feeling, that Israel Defense Forces soldiers can rest assured that their lives will not be played with, is of supreme value; it goes without saying that a soldier who goes into battle expects that there won't be cynical political battles and a settling of accounts at his expense.
Harsh terror plays a cruel game with our human weakness. The Israeli public, which on the one hand demands the release of our soldiers and other captives come what may, is bitter after the fact because we release so many terrorists. When we see the hundreds of prisoners that Hamas is demanding - including some of the 450 terrorists with blood on their hands - rejoicing in Gaza, cursing and condemning us, the public will experience a heavy feeling of bitterness.
But we are lucky. One for all and all for one. So for God's sake, stop quarreling and finish already.
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