The Price of a Decision

The frequent reports about meetings of the forum of seven key ministers in recent days, for discussions on a deal for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, were meant to relay the message that the prime minister is having a hard time. It seems he is torn between his objection in principle to the release of terrorists and his previous insistence on the need to remain steadfast against terrorism, on one hand, and his moral commitment to bringing Shalit back from Hamas captivity.

In the past, Netanyahu has avoided lifting the veil of secrecy from the Forum of Seven - for instance, in discussions of the freeze on settlement construction or the Iranian nuclear threat. But now, Netanyahu wants the public to understand him.

Netanyahu's dilemma revolves around his recognition that if he releases senior terrorists to their homes in the West Bank, every future terrorist attack emanating from this territory will be blamed on him. Even if the perpetrators have no connection to the deal, Netanyahu will be accused of "giving a tailwind to terror" by succumbing to Hamas' demands.

His new rivals on the right, who are angry over the settlement freeze, will suggest he is a pushover, a dupe of the terrorist organizations. What a nightmare.

This is the prime minister's real problem - not an abstract case from his books and articles on terrorism, in which he opposed such deals. Everyone understands that an analyst can be far more adamant and unyielding than a political leader.

In books, one can say whatever one pleases. But the Prime Minister's Bureau has to take reality into consideration and make decisions that always come with a price. The difficulty is about the future, not the past.

Against the concerns about the resumption of terrorism stand concerns about Shalit. Netanyahu does not want to doom the soldier to a life sentence in the Gaza Strip. But this is what will happen if the prime minister insists that the Palestinian terrorists will serve their prison terms in Israel.

He understands that Shalit must be brought home. Therefore, the marathon sessions are there to serve as a cover for Netanyahu, to show the public and the Shalit family how hard the decision is for him, and perhaps to also draw a few more last minute concessions from Hamas, and not really about a dilemma over the deal.

The framework for a deal has been decided long ago, during the term of former prime minister Ehud Olmert. Netanyahu can argue that he got a done deal from Olmert, which limited his ability to negotiate, and that he managed to improve, a little, the conditions of the deal.

The Shalit family, which is highly critical of the way Olmert conducted the affair, can back Netanyahu's version.

But it will be of no help for Netanyahu after the first terrorist attack. He will not be able to blame Olmert, who turned down the deal right before stepping down from office.

This is the reason Netanyahu is accentuating his dilemma and difficulties to the outside world.