Gil’ad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, was taken captive by Hamas, in July, 2006, almost four years ago.
Hamas wants a proper return for his release, and the “proper” return – in their eyes, of course – is the release of their prisoners, held by Israel – the more, the better.
Israel, sensitive to human lives, and responsible to the soldiers sent by her* to battle, agrees to pay the price, but the lesser the better, of course, and thus we enter the scope of horse-trade business, in which, as is natural, each side wants to give less, pay less, and get more.
How much is Israel ready to pay?
Israel has a “reputation” as “easy submissive” to high demands for releasing her citizens, in general, and especially her soldiers.
In the Jibril Deal (1985), Israel released 1,150 PFLP-GC prisoners for three soldiers, a deal for which the Israeli government was highly criticised. The last deal was the Regev-Goldwasser Deal (2008), the core of which was the release of Samir Kuntar and four others, plus the bodies of about 200 dead Hezbollah persons, all that for returning of the soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who were kidnapped just a few hours before Israel started the Lebanon II War (2006).
The peculiar in the last “deal” was that, while making the deal and until the very moment of carrying it out, the state of Israel didn’t know – because Hezbollah didn’t agree to tell – whether the two soldiers are dead or alive. Truly speaking, it was a most-common – not groundless – belief in Israel that they were already dead while they were captured, and the Israeli government knew that, but nobody had the guts to tell their families the bitter truth.
When Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbolla Secretary General, while negotiating with Israel, refused to disclose whether the two soldiers are alive or not, it was clear that they are dead. If they were alive, he sure would have used that fact in order to press Israel for a better return for them, but he didn’t have – excuse me for the expression – that “merchandise”, and if he unveiled that, he would have got a very poor return for their bodies.
But the families pressed, the government bought a pig in a poke, and the rest is history.
The political partition
There are very good reasons not to pay an excessive price for anything. This principle applies a-fortiori to such swap deals. Two of the major reasons are that the released prisoners will “return to terrorism”, and that a massive release of prisoners will encourage more kidnappings.
The major reasons in favour of at-any-price deals is the moral obligation to the soldiers sent to battlefield, to bring them back home, dead or alive, and the negative effect of failing to fulfill this obligation on the individual soldier’s readiness to do his utmost for his country.
Up to this point there is nothing new, and every pro or con reasoning can be argued.
The Israeli public is also divided on this question: the families of the terror victims – but not all of them – are against massive release; they worry about the next victims. The families of the captured soldiers are less concerned about the “birds on the tree”. They want their children back in the present, and only then think about the nameless victims of the future.
At this very point the ugly politics enters the playground: the left-wing’s traditional attitude is in favour of bringing the children back home, even for a high price, while the right-wing’s one is against such swaps.
I agree that there may be differences on every public issue, and all the views are legitimate for me. I also understand the politicians, who are ready, and willing to make political fortune from anything that “moves or doesn’t move”, but I will never accept such an approach to humanitarian matters.
The views in the public
The extreme con-view is one-to-one: one prisoner of theirs for one soldier of ours. If we hold 12,000 prisoners (that’s the approximate number) and have one soldier of ours a captive, we shall give for him one prisoner, and hold the other 11,999 prisoners as a “stock” for future deals (or for the longed-for peace – whose pace is not yet foreseen – when all the counters will be reset).
The opposite extreme view is the “every price” for each individual soldier.
And the government?
When Gil’ad Shalit was captured, in July 2006, Hamas requested the release of some tens of prisoners – women and minors – for his release, but the then prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said: “We shall not negotiate with terrorists!”.
Exactly two years later (July 2008), the same Olmert, still prime minister but a lame duck, said: I shall not be deterred from paying the painful prices for the incoming deal to release Gil’ad Shalit.
Yes, facing criminal interrogations (later lead to criminal indictments) Olmert wished to be remembered for something good he left “to the nation that sits in Zion” (as we say in Hebrew), but he didn’t manage to “supply the goods” (as we also say), and left this bleeding wound to his successor, Binyamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu, and his minister of defense, Ehud Barak.
Facing the same opposing audiences, and the same dilemma, they equivocate: “We shall pay an appropriate price for Gil’ad” to one audience, and “We shall not pay any price for Gil’ad” to the other audience.
Meanwhile, they have already agreed to give 1,000 prisoners, but torpedoed the deal with petty negotiations on the identity of some specific prisoners whom Hamas insist on their release, and the Israeli Government drags its feet, saying rega-rega**.
* In the Hebrew language any noun is either masculine or feminine, and there is no “neuter”. Since Israel is regarded as both a country (Heb: erets) and a state (Heb: medinah), and both erets and medinah are feminine, Israelis regard their country as feminine, and so do I.
** (Hebrew) Rega – a moment, rega-rega – just a moment, let me think over again, etc.
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