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Let's assume Hezbollah announced before the war that it was holding Ron Arad and was ready to give him to Israel in exchange for 600 prisoners of all types. Would anyone have stopped the government from making the deal? Say to it: go to war, free Arad, just don't surrender again to Nasrallah? Arad's family and friends would have come out immediately with posters and placards, enlisting thousands of citizens who would not understand why Israel, which has already handed over prisoners to Hezbollah just for a promise of information, is not ready to free prisoners for Arad himself. These are not fictional assumptions, as becomes clear if one changes the names.

Last week, an Egyptian proposal came up for Hamas or one of the terror groups to release Gilad Shalit in exchange for some 600 prisoners, including minors. Soon, it should be hoped, a Lebanese government (playing according to Hezbollah rules) proposal for the release of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev will arrive. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will no doubt once again put on the face of the aggrieved and emphasize that it is impossible to surrender to terror and that UN Security Council Resolution 1701 requires an unconditional return of prisoners to Israel. Defense Minister Amir Peretz will say something "in the clearest possible manner" and Effi Eitam will insist the government commit suicide atop Masada before conducting any such redemption of prisoners. But the prisoners, from the chatter of the politicians alone, will not get home without something in exchange.

Thirty-nine days ago Israel went to war seemingly to return the two kidnapped soldiers, but in effect to teach Hezbollah a lesson about kidnapping and the killing of eight soldiers. At the same time, the IDF was conducting a war against much weaker forces in Gaza. The army killed more than 200 people, again, seemingly in response to the kidnapping of Shalit, but in effect to teach Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the Nasser Adin Brigades and whoever, that soldiers are not to be kidnapped from Israel. The IDF returned from both fronts without the kidnapped soldiers.

Hasn't the time come again for negotiations? Israel has always argued it does not conduct negotiations while under threat from terrorists. But now the negotiations will be with the Lebanese government, a respectable body, which last week began guarding all the borders of its country. True, there are two members of Hezbollah in that government, and Hezbollah is a terror group, but that's not so bad. It can be ignored. This is not about the welfare of the two families of the kidnapped soldiers, but about the welfare of the state. After all, Israel wants to help the Lebanese government stabilize itself after the war that was imposed on it by Hezbollah. It very much wants to give the Lebanese government the lever it needs against Hezbollah, so it is likely to agree to hand over to Lebanon's government the Lebanese prisoners, and to pressure it. This all could have been achieved without the war, but what can you do? We already waged the war.

Now let's try another exercise. Let's replace the Lebanese government with the Palestinian government. How can we dare make the comparison, the fire-breathers will say. It's a terror government in Palestine, while in Lebanon it's a decent elected government that speaks French and English. What about the Hezbollah ministers? Well, there are only two. But it turns out the Palestinian Authority understands the trick of combining ministers and next week, if all goes well, or maybe a little longer, there will be a mixed Palestinian government: a little Fatah, a little Hamas, a little Islamic Jihad and some other spices. And what if that government asks for prisoners in exchange for Shalit? We'll say yes to the Lebanese government and no to the Palestinians? Or maybe we'll say no to both and go to war again. Or maybe once we'll try saying yes.

Heaven forbid. If we say yes now, why did we go to war?