Israel Must Prove Shalit Deal Is Worth the Price

Gilad Shalit has become an obsession in Israel, a focus for a national pathology.

Bringing Gilad Shalit home is going to cost human lives. We do not know how many, we do not know their faces, we do not recognize their names. But we can assume that they walk among us. As a direct result of a Shalit deal they could lose their lives. When the Israeli government approves a deal at any price, this could be the price: dozens or perhaps hundreds of Israelis killed.

The victims of a Shalit deal might be killed in a number of ways: They might lose their lives in terror attacks. Others could die in a military operation that follows the attacks. There is a fear that some could be killed in missile attacks. Others might fall in the attempt to stop the missile attacks. If the deal erodes Israel's deterrence, it will weaken Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, flood the territories with skilled terrorists and lead to chaos. The chaos will cause violence, which means victims. Shalit will be redeemed at the cost of blood.

People will also be abducted, we may assume, because a Shalit deal will give future kidnappers an incentive. But future kidnappings will not necessarily take place on the Gaza border. They may take place in the West Bank, Galilee or Negev. Or in Turkey, Thailand or Nepal. The way Shalit is rescued from captivity could mean that in a year or two we will once again face heart-rending pictures of Israelis in captivity. But the next time it will not be one Israeli, but a number of them. We will not be able to save them because of the trauma of releasing hundreds of terrorists. We will not be able to pay the price to redeem them. Their fate is sealed.

Does that mean that the deal should be rejected? Not necessarily. The deal will have serious repercussions on the relationship between Israel and its neighbors. It is likely that the deal has become unavoidable because of Israel's relationship with itself.

There is no doubt about it: When it comes to Gilad Shalit, Israel has lost its senses and good judgment. Every possible mistake has been made. Every emotional weakness has come to the fore. A failed government, a hasty media and a confused public has made the Shalit affair insufferable. Gilad has become an obsession, a focus for a national pathology. Perhaps to get well, we need to draw a line through what was and give up. To become itself again, Israel needs to get Gilad Shalit home to Mitzpeh Hila.

But there is one thing we must not do: whitewash things. The decision about Shalit is not tactical, but strategic. It might worsen the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a particularly sensitive moment. It could cause serious bloodshed. And so a government that approves the deal is like a government that decides to go to war.

Even if the decision is necessary, the government must be aware of its repercussions. The government must prove to itself that even if Shalit's return costs many Israeli lives, it is right to pay that terrible price.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lost his elder brother in a dramatic operation meant to prove to the world that Israel does not give in to terror. Throughout his political career, Netanyahu has preached against giving in to terror. And yet the most important leadership decision he will make as prime minister will be to do just that.

Netanyahu is to be commended for his willingness to depart from his past to end this painful affair once and for all. But he must reject this deal of surrender if he is not convinced that it is the last deal of surrender.

Just as in war, a Shalit deal could cost lives. Opinion polls and momentary popularity do not justify such a price. Even the emotional picture of Shalit in the arms of his mother does not justify the price. The only justification will be in knowing that this is it, it's over - no more. Netanyahu will prove he is a worthy leader only if he promises that immediately after Gilad's return, Israel will return to its strength and determination, to the spirit before Entebbe.