Gilad Shalit's captivity causes discomfort and arouses pangs of guilt in many Israelis. There has been an ongoing public debate involving issues of morality and principle on whether Israel should comply with the price it is being asked to pay for his release. Nonetheless, much of the discussion is artificial and manipulative. Economic interests (like the media's emotional blackmail of the public in order to juice its ratings) and political considerations (who will claim the glory of being Shalit's liberator?) fill the television screens and the newspapers' front pages. The sentimentality and pleading has pushed logic and level-headed thought aside. As a result, it has also pushed off Shalit's release.
Now that indirect talks have been restarted, the government must present a responsible, logical and determined stance. This would win it widespread public support, weaken the pressures exerted by manipulative interest groups and undermine Hamas' ability to blackmail Israel. It would also pay dividends when the time comes to bask in the glory.
After a lengthy hiatus - during which even the Shalit family and the vociferous activists understood that the more forceful the public campaign to free their son, the higher the price Hamas would demand - the demonstrations are once again resuming, and the pressures are intensifying, as if nothing had been learned.
This street activity is taking place at a time when the seismographs are indicating a possibility for a breakthrough. The question of whether this will result in good news or bad depends on the price that is paid for his release. There is no need to fear for Gilad's life; because of his unique status, he has an insurance policy: The heads of Hamas know full well what would happen to them, as well as to his immediate captors, if any harm came to Gilad.
According to the hints that the captors have been leaking by way of the Arab media, the Likud government (Likud, of all parties) is planning to pay - with a few cosmetic changes here and there designed to paper over the shame - the price that Ehud Olmert refused to pay, despite the praise that would have been showered on him, and which he desperately needed by the end of his political career, and due to other circumstances as well. In the final moments of his term, it was not popularity that guided Olmert's actions. Rather, it was an unadulterated sense of national responsibility. A surrender to Hamas' demands, even if it were nicely wrapped in cellophane, would violate the national interest, Likud's ideology, and the views of its members and voters.
Putting an end to the Shalit stand-off, some say, would allow Israel to focus on the really important issue - Iran. Yet capitulating to Hamas would harm Israel's primary peacetime weapon - deterrence. Deterrence is now Israel's main weapon against Iran, against a terrorist escalation by Hamas or Hezbollah, and against the "belligerent options" entertained by the leaders of Fatah, both "old guard" and "young guard," at their convention.
Surrendering to Hamas would deal a grievous blow to this deterrence. It would also harm the government's image in the eyes of the region's other pot-stirrers, including the United States, Russia and the European Union. Despite the signs of the government's willingness to outflank Olmert from the left, one must hope that our ministers and Knesset members - who, while in opposition, demonstrated impressive courage by speaking out forcefully against capitulation to Hamas even during the height of the media psychosis in favor of paying any price it demanded - do not abandon their positions now that they are in power.
Gilad has to be brought home - it is our duty. And he will be brought home. But under no circumstances through capitulation.
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