For the past two days there have been marathon sessions of the “inner cabinet” in order to reach resolution on doing a trade with Hamas for the release of Gilad Shalit.
Great pressure had been put upon us, by Hamas itself, and by negotiating parties in Egypt and Germany. “Take it or leave it,” was Hamas’s message — this was their demand and it wasn’t going to change. That demand was for 1,000, or close to 1,000, prisoners from Hamas and Fatah, some with serious blood on their hands. At the same time, persons involved with negotiations, in Egypt and Germany, unreasonably, were irritated with us for not “getting with the program” and letting it happen already after all their hard work. As if it were Israeli intransigence and not the outrage of Hamas demands that was the stumbling block.
For our country this is a situation that is wrenching, with no answer completely easy or comfortable. The release of 1,000 terrorists would just about guarantee that at least some would engage in operations that would take many Israeli lives. There is precedent for this. We know. What is more, it would encourage Hamas and other groups to do further kidnappings to secure the release of additional prisoners. This is not an acceptable price to pay. Not in my personal opinion or in the opinion of many who are involved.
But to know that it might be possible to bring home this young man, who has been in captivity now for three and one-half years, and to decline to do so? A painful decision.
The inner cabinet consists of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak; Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman; Deputy Prime Ministers Moshe Ya’alon, Dan Meridor and Eli Yishai; and Minister Without Portfolio Benny Begin.
Word was that the group was evenly divided, with Lieberman, Ya’alon and Begin against a trade, and Barak, Yishai and Meridor in favor. In point of fact, it was likely more nuanced than this, with the meeting going on well into the night because various parameters and implications were being discussed.
Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi spoke in favor of a deal, quite clearly because of his sense of commitment to the Israeli principle of bringing back our soldiers. Shin Bet (security) officials, mindful of the repercussions of freeing terrorists, spoke against.
In the background at all times were Shalit’s long-suffering parents, Noam and Aviva, waiting for word. I was particularly impressed with his mother, who has been much less visible publicly than her husband. She declared at one point that, “There is no right and wrong here.” It is special mark of character to recognize this, even as the longing to see her son brought back must overwhelm her.
As well, there were people from the “free Shalit” groups, and from the associations representing victims of terror and their families, lobbying on different sides of the issue.
Since the end of the marathon session last night, Barak is the only one to have made a public statement — at a meeting today with high school students in Rishon Letzion:
“We are intensively formulating the correct way to promote the Shalit topic. This is a sensitive time and it would be wrong to expound upon the topic, but we, as those who sent Gilad, feel a responsibility… to make every feasible and worthy move to bring Gilad home, though not at any price.
“As far as prisoner exchanges go, we are on a slippery slope, from the Jibril deal [that released 1,150 prisoners in 1985 for three Israeli POWs held by the PLFP] to [the deal for securing Elhanan] Tannenbaum (note: he didn’t mention the more recent trade of the very vile Samir Kuntar for the bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldvasser), and there is no choice but to brake. It is clear to all, within the inner cabinet as well as among the general public, that the modes of action regarding prisoner changes must change.”
Netanyahu, who, from all reports, had serious reservations, was said to have vacillated. In the end, he apparently moved to a more stringent position than what he had entertained at an earlier point. The key for him was not who was to be released, but to where. He did not want prisoners released into Judea and Samaria, where they would have the potential to revive terror operations and threaten the Jewish population; he felt that, in spite of Hamas demands to the contrary, they would have to be released to Gaza or elsewhere.
And so, at the end of the discussions, the decision was made not to decide yet. Israeli negotiator Hagai Hadas — who at one point was apparently on the edge of resigning — was told to go back and negotiate further with Hamas, via Germany. The offer being made to Hamas is that we do the demanded release, but that “heavy” prisoners be sent only to Gaza or abroad. A question that comes to my mind is whether Marwan Barghouti — a key Fatah member, serving five consecutive life sentences — is on the list and counted as a “heavy” who must go elsewhere. Barghouti has said he would refuse such a deal.
Hamas is saying that if their original demands are not met, there will be no deal. Any change in this stance would have to come from Hamas headquarters in Damascus.
Heaven knows that I am no fan of Ehud Barak. But when he speaks true, it must be acknowledged. And what he said today was highly appropriate with regard to the issues. Israel, regrettably, over the years has engaged in a number of precedent-setting trades, and it is time for this pattern to be reversed.
The question — which we cannot begin to answer — is what approaches the cabinet will consider, if Hamas does not accept the deal now offered. People ask about our going in to get Shalit. But there is real fear in this regard that he would be dead before we reached him. This happened in the foiled attempt, in 1994, to rescue Nachshon Waxman.
Yet, there may be other alternatives, such as ratcheting up the stringency of closures on Gaza (except for humanitarian supplies!) until he is released.
The Israel Resource News Agency some time ago sent journalists in to our prisons to interview members of Hamas. They are proud of what they have done and talk openly. It’s both fascinating and blood-curdling to listen to them as they speak matter-of-factly about their “endeavors.” Among the most important statements made was one by a woman, who described her work with an Arab man, as they planned a bombing in the center of Jerusalem. “Will there be religious Jews there?” the man asked. The woman assured him there would be. “Why did this matter?” her interviewer asked. Her answer — which should be marked well by all — is that the war between Palestinians and Israelis is a religious war.
I provide here a number of YouTube links to those interviews. (YouTube limits the length of video, so that the interviews could not go up as one combined video.) Who knows, some of those interviewed may be on the lists for release.
Do my eyes deceive me? Has Jimmy Carter done tshuva (repentance)?
After years of demonizing Israel and taking a solidly pro-Arab position, he has now apologized to Israel:
“We must recognize Israel’s achievements under difficult circumstances, even as we strive in a positive way to help Israel continue to improve its relations with its Arab populations, but we must not permit criticisms for improvement to stigmatize Israel.
“As I would have noted at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but which is appropriate at any time of the year, I offer an Al Het for any words or deeds of mine that may have done so.”
As he would have noted at Yom Kippur? An Al Het? Al Het literally means “for the sin.” It is confessional prayer recited on Yom Kippur.
Who has been coaching him, and what has motivated this change of heart?
Goes to show, we never know. If he can offer an Al Het, who can tell what’s next? Let’s hope this change is sincere and deep and sustained.
The idiocy of enforcing a building freeze in Judea and Samaria that is tearing the nation apart becomes ever more apparent. The alleged reason for this was to bring the PA to the negotiating table. But there’s about a snowball’s chance in hell of this happening.
This time it was Ahmed Qurei (aka Abu Ala) — former PA prime minister and chief negotiator — who made a statement:
“…all the negotiations we have pursued were being exploited by Israel to buy time and kick sand in the eyes, while attempting to impose new facts on the ground, particularly with settlements, separating Jerusalem from Palestine, and with the separation wall as a unilateral solution making it impossible to reach an acceptable, fair, balanced and just peace that we can accept and market.
“[From Oslo to Annapolis] we see a continuation of the use of the language of force in order to impose a peace settlement that can only be described as surrender.”
As “we have come to the point where negotiations are a waste of time,” it was suggested Abbas’s political advisor, Nimer Hammad, that the international community has to step in.
What is more, the Israeli demand that we be recognized as a “Jewish state” is, according to Hammad, “an obstacle that really complicates matters.”
If this is how concessions are received, exactly why is it that we bother?
“The Good News Corner”
Archeologists have discovered a house in Nazareth thought to date to the first century BCE. It is considered a particularly important find because it is the first time that a house from a Jewish village was discovered in this area for this time period. Tombs in the area previously uncovered suggest that this was a village of some 50 families. Written texts refer to a Jewish village in Nazareth in the first century, and the nature of the pottery found in the home marks it as used by Jews.