Netanyahu, Knesset, Shalit swap
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at a Knesset meeting about the Shalit swap deal, Oct. 11, 2011. Photo by Avi Ohayon
Text size

The day will come when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is asked a question like the kind asked by radio host Shmuel Flatto-Sharon: "What have you done for the country?" He will think and think and finally answer: I released one kidnapped soldier from captivity. Yes, one young soldier.

If that same question had been asked of David Ben-Gurion, he would have replied that he founded the State of Israel. If asked of Menachem Begin, he would have said that he achieved peace with Egypt. Yitzhak Rabin would have mentioned his peace treaties, including the recognition in principle of two states for two peoples under the Oslo Accords, signed in a ceremony on the White House lawn.

Ariel Sharon would have said that he was the prime minister who evacuated settlements in the Gaza Strip by force, hoping to put an end to the dream of a Greater Israel. Ehud Barak could have said that he dared to tread where no prime minister had trod before: He took the leap of getting the Israeli army out of Lebanon in a single night.

Rabin released 1,150 terrorists in return for three soldiers - Yosef Grof, Hezi Shai and Nissim Salem - in an agreement that has gone down in ignominy as the Jibril Deal. The day before the deal was done, Rabin held a meeting at his offices with leading newspaper editors. If my memory serves me right, it was Haaretz editor Gershom Schocken who asked whether the releasees included anyone with "blood on his hands." Rabin's reply was categorical: no.

To this day it remains unknown if we were deliberately misled or whether he couldn't take the pressure and capitulated at the last moment, releasing the worst murderers. In time, Rabin admitted that he couldn't hold up before the looks he got from Grof's mother Miriam. In any case, that deal, which had the country in an uproar, exposed our Achilles' heel. As for Hamas, unable to prevail over us, it turned kidnapping into its atom bomb.

The undersigned, a member of the Israeli people, has changed his mind several times about Gilad Shalit. I have written "Not at any price" and also "Yes at any price." This dilemma not only haunted the people but created a problem whose culmination is obvious. It doesn't matter if committees arise that rule "only one for one in the future." I'm not sure this drama won't repeat itself. With a deal so deep in the consensus, and with Israel so sentimental about it, why shouldn't it repeat in the future?

In contrast to the public's angry reaction to the wholesale release of terrorists in the past, this time the decision was met with understanding, even joy. First, because of Gilad Shalit's image; he looks like a mother's son in all his pictures. Second, because of the family's campaign on his behalf. With quiet demonstrations, they captivated the public's heart. All parents in the land were wondering what would have happened had their son been held captive in a dark cellar for five years. Everyone is happy for his family, but grieved and worried about how the Israeli army and intelligence, for all their great reputation, couldn't find out where he was being kept.

Bibi adopted a decision that had been designed by the previous government. He achieved a majority in the cabinet and made sure to magnify, with reason, his role in making the decision. His wife Sara was the first to phone Shalit's mother in the protest tent and tell her that her son was about to be released. Possibly Shalit's release under similar conditions could have been obtained by the previous prime minister. But unlike the past, this time the heads of Israeli intelligence supported the deal. The fact that this happened on Netanyahu's watch and that he had the courage to release hundreds of murderers, with the backing of the security establishment, gives him an extra point.

Does that make Bibi a leader who will lead us to peace? The mean-hearted will claim that Bibi broke and made concessions where his predecessors did not.

Bibi did not break. He cut a coupon to strengthen his political and personal status. It's a lot easier for him to release Shalit than to give up on territories for the sake of a peace agreement. One act of leadership does not make Bibi a leader. We mustn't forget that the Hamas leadership was under stress, pressed by hundreds of families and organizations that wanted their kin and members freed from years in Israeli prison.

We saw in the negotiations that when Egypt and Turkey were needed, these countries were not lost. Shalit's release alone does not make Netanyahu a leader. He will be considered a true leader on the day he realizes that great concessions are made not only for the sake of one soldier, but for a peace agreement inside safe borders for the sake of all the people. And he isn't there yet.