Olmert's Private Soldier

Where have all those protesting on behalf of Shalit gone? The slogans, the satire, the interviews - were they there only to serve Olmert?

It appears that former prime minister Ehud Olmert and captured soldier Gilad Shalit have somehow become one, a symbiosis of sorts between two tragic figures. They are so closely linked that when one disappears, so does the other. Has anyone heard anything about Shalit lately? Does anyone know what happened in the negotiations for his release? Is the Netanyahu government willing to release Palestinian prisoners to get him back, commit to the previous prime minister's promises and continue the talks with Hamas from where they stopped? It seems Shalit was a personal matter for Olmert, who took Shalit with him the moment he moved from the prime minister's bureau to the corridors of police investigators.

Where have all those protesting on behalf of Shalit gone? The slogans, the satire, the interviews - were they there only to serve Olmert? Was the former prime minister the only one who wanted Shalit released, but his successors are relieved of that duty?

A bizarre assumption is making the rounds that Benjamin Netanyahu is not bound by Olmert's commitment to bring Shalit home. A new government has taken over, and everything starts from zero. Netanyahu is sailing on waves of public understanding that he will not be the one to win Shalit's release.

Indeed, there is a degree of 'justice' in the leave he has given himself. After all, the supposed understanding was built brick by brick as the Olmert government's tenure ended. During its final days and hours, the mistaken theory took root that only Olmert could and should gain Shalit's release. After all, Shalit was abducted on Olmert's watch, Olmert was the one who placed sanctions on the Gaza Strip because of Shalit, and he conducted the war, one of whose aims was to release Shalit.

Olmert built himself up, but he was also built up by others, including the poor Shalit family, who had no one else as Gilad's guardian. As if a prime minister is only responsible for the soldiers who serve during his term.

Now a new era begins, with the war over and a new government in office. Shalit is no more than a debt incurred by someone who's no longer around to claim the money from.

It appears Shalit had the same status as the peace process. The public is willing to shrug its shoulders and sink in frustration on both issues, because no one really wants to deal with either. And there are major issues to deal with: the expected trial of Avigdor Lieberman, countering the threat of rapprochement between Iran and the Americans, and wondering whether the police commissioner will resign. And there is also the economy. Who has time for Shalit? Mostly importantly, we have an elected government whose entire essence opposes concessions.

In a single moment Shalit was transformed from a national asset whose release required a courageous decision, to a symptom characterizing the new government. A government that delineates the areas in which it will do nothing, while relying on a reputation for action. A sort of Khartoum Conference government: no negotiations, no recognition of the Palestinians and no peace. Certainly no to the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the kidnapped soldier.

In two months it will be three years since Shalit's abduction. It's hard to tell if he knows that the government has changed in Israel, the second government since his capture, and that a nationalist, proud, uncompromising government is in power. It's a government that plans to show Shalit's captors what an efficient war on terror really means. A government where the voice of Defense Minister Ehud Barak has still not been heard, neither on peace (except for his comments in 'closed forums' on Barack Obama's plan) and certainly not on the Shalit case. And it might be best for a soldier serving under Olmert and Barak not to know that the government has changed. Why should he lose all hope?

We, unlike Shalit, know well there is a new government; the question is the concessions that should be made to it, at least on the Shalit matter. Because our soldiers, now serving under Netanyahu, will very much want to know if the commitment to them is limited to the current government's tenure, or if they can be confident that if captured, their parents won't have to hang desperately on the prime minister's sleeves before someone replaces him.