In early June last year, not long before the evacuation of Gaza, an Israeli leader got up in front of a Jewish audience in New York and said the following brave words: "We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies. We want that we will be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies. We want them to be our friends, our partners, our good neighbors." He ended his emotional plea with the words, "this is not impossible. [I]t is within reach if we will be smart, if we will dare, if we will be prepared to take the risks, and if we will be able to convince our Palestinian partners to be able to do the same. So that together we will move forward in this direction of building up different relations, better understanding, and greater trust between us and them." The speaker was Ehud Olmert, then deputy prime minister.
A year later, this time in Jerusalem, without the deputy in front of his title, Olmert turned to a Jewish audience at the Jewish Agency convention and said, "I regard the Palestinian Authority, headed by [Mahmoud] Abbas and the PA government, as responsible for yesterday's act of terrorism." And he added: "Everyone representing the PA is among those responsible for what is done by it, and we will not give any of them immunity." And at the security cabinet session on Monday night, he said: "The world is fed up with the Palestinians. So far our responses have been restrained. No more." The fatigue of war was gone as if it had never existed, the wisdom gave way to heroism, and the language of threats replaced the call for partnership.
Is it possible that a wise statesman would change his doctrine because of a gang of rocket launchers? Is it conceivable that a leader would shelve his vision because of a military failure that cost the precious lives of two soldiers and the capture of their buddy? Have we not learned yet that in the relationship between us and our neighbors, force is the problem, not the solution? Ariel Sharon used the Abu Nidal group's assassination attempt on Ambassador Shlomo Argov in London in June 1982 to chase after Yasser Arafat, and entangled Israel in the Lebanese quagmire. The Netanya terror attack in March 2002 provided Sharon with an excuse to conquer the territories and eliminate the PA under Arafat's leadership.
The calls for vengeance shoved aside the calls for reconciliation from Saudi Arabia. The echoes of the battles of Operation Defensive Shield overcame the declaration of peace issued by the Arab League in Beirut. And now, the rage and humiliation leave no chance for the first initiative for reconciliation by key Fatah and Hamas activists in Israeli prisons. It is no accident that the group that planned and conducted the attack in Rafah gave their operation the code name "Shattered Illusions." The "illusion" referred to the Prisoners' Document, which Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas were about to sign.
The document, which is based on a cessation of all violence inside the borders of the state of Israel, could save the lives of Israeli citizens. The goal of the soldier's captors was to kidnap the cease-fire and the chance for a resumption of the dialogue between Israel and a pragmatic Palestinian coalition. If Olmert really was blessed with the courage of his words in New York, he would offer to trade Shalit for the signatories of the Prisoners' Document, Marwan Barghouti of Fatah and Abdul Khaleq Natshe of Hamas. Their release would be the decisive blow to Khaled Meshal, who is ready to fight Jewish children down to the last drop of Palestinian children's blood. There could not be any clearer signal of Israeli intent to effect a real change in relations with the large Palestinian population that is also tired of fighting.
If the prime minister does not have the strength to use this opportunity that has come his way to free the two and strengthen their camp, he could at least use the document as a lever for progress in the peace process by acceding to the bilateral cease-fire that it proposes. The fear of an Israeli invasion of Gaza strengthens the connection between Haniyeh and Abbas and improves the chance that the fire will indeed die down. But none of this can happen as long as passing emotional storms take our national leaders' judgment hostage and they behave as if they were the ones who had been kidnapped.
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