Barak and Shalit Debate and a Deal

The Shalit family and the leadership of the campaign for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit criticized Defense Minister Ehud Barak yesterday for his remarks to high-school students regarding a deal for freeing him.

But there was also considerable praise.

Barak, it could be argued, finally spoke the truth that most politicians have been trying to evade: Gilad must be brought home, but not at any price.

Barak said it was time to end the whining that has characterized the public discourse on a deal for his release.

It would be easy to join in the praise for Barak had there not been the storm of controversy that met similar remarks in December by then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni. In the middle of the election campaign, Livni said that "it was not always possible to bring everyone home." At a Tel Aviv high school she condemned calls for a deal to free Shalit at any price.

Barak was then competing with Livni for left and center voters, and in his camp, the remarks were seen as a sign of inexperience on the part of Livni, who was labeled as insensitive for her comments.

Now, after Ehud Olmert wasted so much time in futile declarations about decisiveness and courage, it appears the Netanyahu government has no choice but to pay Hamas a high price in an agreement that Barak will ultimately support. In the coming weeks and months, negotiations on Shalit's release will reach a critical stage.

Room for maneuver is limited. Barak, the prime minister and the heads of the defense establishment know there will be no way to avoid freeing "heavies" among the murderers in Israeli jails if Israel wishes to bring this sorry case to a close.