Israel has been abuzz for the last few weeks as the Netanyahu government has been actively negotiating with Hamas for the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held incommunicado for three years.
The price is simple - Hamas wants a huge number of terrorists ( estimates range from 1,000 to 2000)who were tried and convicted in Israeli civil courts in a swap for Shalit, an Israeli kidnapped by Hamas in Israeli territory.The main issues to be settled are the number of terrorists and the names on the list.
It's difficult for people elsewhere to appreciate what a hold this has on the Israeli public, who favor dealing forShalit's release. In a country with a true citizen's army where almost everyone serves in the military, Shalit comes across as everyman. The IDF takes pride in never leaving a man behind, having seen how the Arabs routinely torture captives and mutilate corpses. The Israelis got a fresh reminder of that when child killer Sami Kuntar was released in exchange for the tortured and mutilated bodies of two Israeli servicemen who were kidnapped by Hezbollah, the act that along with Hezbollah's missile attacks on Israel precipitated the Lebanon War.
Actually, according to my sources the IDF knows where Shalit is being held, but it's in a boobytrapped location from which it would be difficult to get him out alive and Shalit's family has reportedly insisted that the IDF not try.
The latest news is that Hamas has presented its 'final offer' to Israel and wants an answer within 48 hours:
..Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Saturday that Israel must respond to Hamas's demands if it wants to see Schalit released.
"We told the Israelis that if you want your soldier, you must pay the price demanded by the Palestinians," Egypt news agency MENA quoted Aboul Gheit as saying on Saturday.
Israel should not "exaggerate its demands," the foreign minister added.
Yes, that's what the Israeli peace treaty with Egypt smells like.
The Arab language newspaper al Hayat reportedly claims that Shalit was examined by a team of French doctors in the Gaza Strip, the first anyone other than Hamas has been allowed to see him. Al Hayat further said that the deal to exchange Shalit for some 1,000 terrorists is being held up over Israel's refusal over some of the names on the Hamas wish list.
While I deeply sympathize with the Shalits and I understand why a majority of the Israeli public favior a deal, the entire spectacle of Israel trading convicted terrorists for an Israeli citizen who was essentially kidnapped for ransom sets an incredibly bad precedent and almost guarantees a repeat performance. Not only will more Israelis die as a result as the freed Arabs return to terrorism, but this successful extortion by Hamas and Hezbollah will create a new incentive to kidnap other Israelis for ransom.And by implication, it equates a kidnapped soldier like Shalit with a convicted murderer like Sami Kuntar or Marwan Barghouti, giving life to myth that this is merely a 'prisoner exchange.'
Here's a better idea. The Israeli government should simply announce at noon tomorrow that if Gilad Shalit is not released unharmed to Israeli custody by midnight,the water and power to Gaza, which Israel provides, will be cut off until he is. And that includes a cut off the tax revenues Israel remits to the Palestinian Authority every month, a portion of which ends up in the hands of Hamas.
I have a feeling that it wouldn't be long before Gilad Shalit was back with his family.