Shalit Provides Israel With Excuse for Brutality Toward Gaza

PM is only one claiming that price for Shalit is calculated in crossings or traded goods, not prisoners.

Alas, Hamas operatives have begun enforcing a dress code for women at the beach, forcing them to cover their head. The Taliban is on our southern border. Interesting: In Saudi Arabia women must wear veils and are forbidden to drive, to travel abroad unaccompanied by a man or to work in a long list of professions. Yet our hearts go out to the Saudis. If only they would shake our hands.

And what else do we know about Gaza? Last week, for instance, there was an ambitious kite-flying contest at the beach. The Gazans want to make the Guinness Book of World Records. We also know that Hamas runs a highly lucrative network of smuggling tunnels from Egypt. What else do we know? Not much. For example, how many high school graduates were there this year? How many university graduates? And, most important,where is the next generation of Gazans headed?

Gaza, like its sister city, Sderot, has fallen off the map. Since the Qassams stopped falling, this twin-city alliance has disintegrated. The unofficial tahadiyeh (lull) in place for six months has made life "routine" again: Gaza is under siege, as usual, and Sderot has returned to the back pages.

Yet, if life in Gaza has returned to normal despite the siege, and Israeli intelligence is capable of cataloging the amount of cement, fuel and iron being smuggled in from Egypt, the size of the transactions as well as Hamas' taxes on smuggled goods, why not take the steps that should have been taken long ago? Open the gates of Gaza and allow everyone to import, export, profit and build. Allow students to study at universities in Jordan and Egypt. Break Hamas' monopoly over the economy. And most important, stop with the bluffing already. This is the same bluff Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to peddle successfully - that opening the Gaza crossings is dependent on the release of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit.

Shalit has been held captive for three years now. Three years of sanctions and one cruel war against Gaza to win his release, and nothing. Yet somehow, the deceptive equation according to which "crossings equal Shalit" has taken hold. We can once again note that the price for Shalit is calculated in Palestinian prisoners, not in crossings or traded goods. The price tag for opening the crossings is different: an end to rocket fire on the communities in the south. These two formulas have not changed since Shalit was abducted. Netanyahu is the only one trying to blur this distinction.

Because Netanyahu knows the truth, there is a sneaking suspicion that perhaps Shalit has done well in serving what some call "the Israeli interest." As long as he is in captivity, Israel can continue to squeeze Hamas, isolate Gaza and maintain the distinction that in the West Bank live the nice Palestinians who very soon will build a brand new city, while in Gaza sit the terrorists. Here they are enjoying life under occupation while there, wherever Hamas is, they are suffering. If only the Palestinians would be so kind as to put two and two together. Therefore, as long as Shalit is in Gaza Israel is not required to give explanations for its brutal policy toward the Strip. After all, it is so understandable, so human, to impose a siege on Gaza because of one captive soldier. It is so rational to ignore the lull Hamas is enforcing because there is an abducted soldier there.

Shalit's release is liable to undermine these arguments. If, as Netanyahu claims, opening the crossings depends on Shalit's release, his release would strengthen Hamas significantly. It can declare victory and, most importantly, finally enjoy the money that awaits it in Jordanian and Saudi banks for rebuilding the Strip. Hamas is proving that it can, if it so desires, control Qassam rocket fire, preserve the calm, initiate a lull according to its own timetable, halt progress in the peace process between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, and even compel Washington to reassess its position (albeit with great caution). It would be happy to free Shalit in exchange for the crossings, whose opening would earn it recognition among the Arabs.

But this is not the condition the suspicious Hamas has laid down. It wants prisoners. Who is willing to wager that the day after Shalit is released the crossings won't once again be sealed? Does Netanyahu promise this? Does Defense Minister Ehud Barak? As long as the policy is not to recognize Hamas, and to limit its movements, arrest its activists and "destroy its infrastructure," it is only natural that Israel would want to continue to keep the crossings shut even after Shalit's release. Once again, Israel has become entangled in its own policy. But the main thing is that things are wonderful in Gaza. Did you see the kites?