By Shimon Z. Klein

On July 25th 2006, Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier doing his compulsory service was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. The intention of his kidnappers was and still is to use him as a bargaining chip for releasing Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons. This method of bargaining by the Hamas and its allies is very effective. The use of threats of not being responsible for whatever happens to Shalit if their demands are not met is a form of ransom to exact a high price from Israel.

The decision for Israel is a hard one. The price from Israel’s point of view is high. To date there is talk of releasing 1400 Palestinian prisoners for Gilad Shalit. Many of these prisoners were responsible for the most horrendous murders of innocent Israelis about their daily business. The decision making on this issue from every point of view is tough. Whatever decision or agreement coming from this decision will not satisfy all the parties involved, least of all Israeli families who have lost members through terrorist acts.

What Hamas and their allies lack in sophisticated military equipment, they make up in stealth and tactics which has hit the underbelly of Israel very effectively. Israel has proved to be unable to deal effectively with these Palestinian groups. They have not been able to prevent kidnappings of their soldiers by Palestinian vigilantes in the south and Hezbollah in the north. Israel’s bargaining power is weak and within time it will get weaker. The possibility of freeing Gilad Shalit by army intervention is risky and doomed to failure. It is a “Catch 22” situation with no winners. Attempts were made in the past to free kidnapped soldiers and this ended up in tragedy as in the rescue Nachshon Wachsman in 1994, when a critical gap in information (the fact that the soldier was being held behind an iron door that was difficult to burst through) delayed the entry into the room and caused the failure of the entire operation. This scenario could easily repeat itself in the future if the army attempts to free Gilad Shalit.

Apart from that, Israel’s government is weak and much is due to the notorious corruption scandals that is tainting many cabinet ministers, the latest being the Minister of Finance Hirschson and who knows who will be next in line for interrogation by the police. Even PM Olmert has baggage waiting to be opened by the police at the appropriate time. These factors cannot be overlooked when assessing the power of the Israeli Authorities to negotiate or deal with the Palestinian kidnappers.

The moral dilemma is great when it comes to bargaining the release of Gilad Shalit. There is no doubt that prisoners with blood on their hands will be included in the bargain and the ramifications of this will increase the use of the effective kidnapping weapon by the Palestinians in the future. What is obvious is that the Israeli Army has failed to prevent kidnappings of their soldiers. Every kidnapping will exact an increasingly higher price. One needs to examine past kidnappings and the price exacted. The trend is that the price increases and so does the hate against Israel.

Prevention of kidnappings must take top priority to prevent Palestinian terrorists from using this tactic. The fact that kidnappings of Israeli soldiers in their line of duty does occur shows that the Israeli Security Forces have not found an effective way to prevent this from happening.

The bargaining for Shalit’s release will continue and it is not certain when he will be released. The price remains high and the disagreement over the Palestinian prisoner list remains an obstacle in the reaching of an agreement.

It is possible that Israel will release many Palestinian prisoners who have murdered innocent Israelis as part of the deal. The question that remains is when the murder was perpetrated and under what circumstances. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, prisoners with blood on their hands are considered “freedom fighters against the Israeli occupation”. This gives a reminder to Israel once again how problematic its existence is to the Palestinian extremists. There is no limit as to the number of prisoners that will be released in a deal for Shalit’s release. Their heinous crimes against innocent people are not even a consideration that will prevent their release from the Palestinian viewpoint.

If Israel is genuine in its desire to release bring Gilad Shalit home, it will have to bow down to the demands of the Palestinian negotiators. If they do not, Gilad Shalit’s future in the hands of his captors will remain a big question mark. The possibility of danger to his life cannot be ruled out. The release of Palestinian prisoners could be done in stages to prevent too much of a psychological trauma to victims of terror. Either way, the decision as to which prisoners should be released and when will be a very difficult one for Israel. It will also create a precedent for Hamas to continue to use the kidnapping weapon in order to get Israel to pay a heavy price for its demands.

The only way to prevent kidnappings and violence in the end is for both sides to sit down and negotiate a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians. This should place the ending of the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as top priority. This will also lead to negotiations to solve the right of return of Palestinian refugees Jerusalem being the capital of both Israel and Palestine. Logistics for this has to be worked out by the two negotiating partners. The solution to the conflict should be one that is fair to both sides. Both sides will have to make painful decisions. Is any compromise painful for the achievement of true peace between Israel and Palestine? Surely an end to the conflict is advantageous to both peoples.


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