In absolute numbers the prisoner exchange deal leaves a bad taste: Three bodies of Israeli soldiers and one live businessman for 435 Arab prisoners and a few dozen bodies of Lebanese. Even in terms of "war ethics" - an oxymoron in itself - there is a problem. Israel is again breaking an iron-clad rule of established countries, according to which negotiations are not conducted with terrorist organizations.
The photos that will be shot today and tomorrow in Lebanon, the Hezbollah's victory celebrations and the political might that the prisoner exchange will grant this organization for the near future will join the negative balance: The Hezbollah has twisted Israel's arm.
From the perspective of the purity of bargaining, there is no argument that can purify the defilement, not even the pain of the parents and children. Anyone who wants to fight terror has to make sacrifices. Period.
Purity, however, is too expensive a jewel to wear in the street. It is a something that can disrupt a normal lifestyle, because anyone who objects to negotiations with terror organizations has to draw a clear border between themselves and countries that support terror.
According to the rule that there be no surrender to terror, Israel or its mediators do not have to conduct negotiations with Iran or Syria, Libya or North Korea. They are all suspected of supporting terror. Cleaving to a rule whereby negotiations are conducted only with states and not with organizations is also taken from the book of laws that is engraved in stone. It is therefore difficult to put it in a rucksack and take it along to negotiations.
According to this rule, Israel should not have agreed to negotiations with the Colombian underground organization that kidnapped Israeli backpackers; Russia is forbidden to negotiate with the Chechnyan rebels and the Palestinian Authority is not allowed to negotiate with Hamas or the Islamic Jihad, just as Israel should be forbidden from negotiating with the PA, which by Israel's definition, is tainted with terror. The problem is that the list of terror organizations operating worldwide is longer than the list of countries.
The reality is that citizens of the countries, and not members of the organizations, will always be easy prey for these organizations. The countries may therefore be required to negotiate with terrorist organizations - homegrown or external - at any time.
This means that the deal with Hezbollah is not unique and is not even a precedent. Israel has negotiated with Hezbollah before, both for prisoner exchanges and military "understandings." This is not a deal that changes Israel's strategic position or threatens its ability to act against the Hezbollah or other organizations.
If there is anything that turns the Hezbollah into a strategic institution, it is precisely Israel's contact with countries that can help to restrict the Hezbollah. One example is Israel's precondition to negotiations with Syria, that Syria liquidate Hezbollah. This precondition increases Hezbollah's ability to set its own conditions, and even to veto negotiations.
Israel could have earned important points with Lebanese public opinion had it negotiated the prisoner release with the Lebanese government and even turned over the Lebanese bodies in a unilateral move.
Lebanese public opinion is important to stemming the power of the Hezbollah, whose might has been proved by the rhetoric on the Syrian presence in Lebanon. The hundreds of Palestinian prisoners could have been given to the Palestinian Authority, and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom would have done well if he had brought the Jordanian prisoners with him when he flew to Jordan. These almost became part of Hassan Nasrallah's booty.
Even the government's beating its breast over the sloppy diplomatic behavior regarding the prisoner exchange, however, is small wisdom. When the whole country has turned missing Israel Air Force navigator Ron Arad into a national flag and the search for him into a constant binding mission for every citizen, when any letup in the search is considered national treason, it is no wonder that governments behave irrationally - from kidnapping the citizens of a foreign country to the strange handling of negotiations.
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