On Thursday, the headquarters of the Friends of Gilad Shalit issued a statement attacking Tzipi Livni and alleging that she is sacrificing Shalit on the altar of her election campaign. Livni had dared to tell a schoolgirl in Tel Aviv that, "It's not always possible to bring everyone home." Any rational person understands that such a statement, which touches on the Holy of Holies of Israeli society, is bound to cause serious damage to its utterer's election campaign, and actually amounts to a risk taken by a brave politician.
Livni was not speaking out against the efforts to secure Shalit's release; instead, she boldly and heretically hinted that there are situations in which the good of the state dictates that a deal not be made. By Friday, activists were already demonstrating outside the heretic's home.
Last summer, former chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon said that, "In certain situations, one could say that we are prepared to sacrifice captives because the payment is much steeper than the price of [losing] the captive soldier." In response to this brave and practically suicidal statement, Noam Shalit said that Ya'alon had become a politician.
One can imagine that there is a rather large camp of politicians who secretly believe the price Hamas is demanding for Shalit's return is intolerable. But only a few of them have the guts to do as Ya'alon and Livni, because any leader who dares to speak out against an exorbitantly high price becomes the subject of a "targeted killing." It's like an upside-down world, where whoever is brave enough to voice a different opinion ends up being denounced as a small-minded politician.
Of course, there are also many politicians who believe that the good of the state requires mothers to know that if their sons are abducted, Israel will exchange any number of terrorists for them. According to this view, in a time of dwindling motivation and increasing draft-dodging, this knowledge must be part of the unwritten agreement between the state and parents. This is a legitimate stance. What's not legitimate is the attempt to stymie any expression of a different view. This campaign of silencing must stop.
One of the poorest arguments used to silence anyone who disagrees that any price should be paid to free Shalit is, "What would you say if it was your child?" Every parent must do his utmost to bring his child home, but the government's job is to act responsibly, just as it is doing in the case of Shalit.
The opposition of the families of terror victims to the release of prisoners is perceived as a rightist cause. It's not clear why. We all understand the demand by rape victims to be involved in any decision regarding a plea bargain for the defendants. Why aren't the families of the murdered entitled to exactly the same privilege when the release of the murderers is at stake? The standard answer is that, as painful as it may be, the state has decided that the release is a national interest. But how are we to know that that is so if there is not even an iota of free public debate on the matter?
Former deputy Shin Bet chief MK Israel Hasson says that more than 30 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded as a result of the 2004 release of Islamic Jihad prisoners in the deal for Elhanan Tannenbaum. Some will argue that this statistic is demagogic. Perhaps the void would have been filled by other terrorists who would have done similar damage. Perhaps not.
What's certain is that there is a big chance that those released as part of a Shalit deal will in the future be involved in the deaths of dozens of Israelis. The parents of these casualties don't yet know that they are victims, and so they cannot represent themselves. Someone else has to represent them. This is precisely why we elect leaders and hope that they will give priority to what is right for the state, rather than what is popular. In the case of Shalit, this means hard bargaining. Therefore, Livni deserves all due praise for what she said. Therefore, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert deserves all due praise for the brave speeches in which he stressed that Israel would not pay "any price." This is exactly what we can expect from Benjamin Netanyahu, too.
It is commonly asserted that a transition government does not have the authority to make decisions of long-term impact. The decision to release hundreds of terrorists would certainly seem to fit this description. That's not to say that if there is a chance for a reasonable deal beforehand, Gilad Shalit should have to wait until the election. But it does mean that if a Shalit deal is decided upon before the election, it must be passed unanimously by a forum that includes not only Olmert, Livni and Barak, but also the head of the opposition, Netanyahu.
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