hamas roof flag 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Gilad Schalit's abductors are well aware that Israel is the sole liberal democracy in a sea of autocratic Arab regimes. They know that Israel adheres to a very different set of values from their own death cult, that Israel makes the preservation of life its highest consideration.
The upshot is that whenever our enemies hold an Israeli to ransom, they expect his country to go out of its way to pay for his freedom, even if the price is disproportionate and even if it, down the line, endangers the lives of others Israelis - both in uniform and civilians. The more Israel pays, the more kidnappings are seen to pay off.
This understandably is not of immediate concern to Schalit's parents, who have just heard his voice for the first time in a year on an audio recording released by Hamas to mark the anniversary of the ambush in which he was seized, without provocation, from Israel's side of the border with Gaza.
The Schalits' anguish almost defies description. For an entire year, ruthless villains had denied them so much as a hint about the condition of their captive son. Yet these villains now portray their demand for setting loose 1,400 terrorists as a "prisoner exchange," omitting to mention that Schalit attacked nobody.
He is nevertheless juxtaposed with convicted terrorists, among then heinous mass murderers. There is no remote equivalence here, but rather a cynical distortion of the essence of POW-swaps.
Hamas, plainly toying with the Schalit family's feelings, forced its hostage to compare his parents to those of the cold-blooded killers it wants set loose. But this skewed correspondence is only attempted because of the kidnappers' knowledge that Israel values life and will pay excessively to buy Schalit's freedom.
Over the years, whenever Israel has violated standard haggling rules in this region's Levantine bazaar to secure the return of its precious captives, it has per force raised the asking price, contributing to the current emboldening of Hamas. Pressure exerted on the government by the captives' families and their supporters does not go unnoticed in Gaza and Lebanon. TV campaigns and stirring outdoor rallies dedicated to liberating hostages actually up the ante. They make Israel look even more anxious to deal, which only strengthens the terrorists' bargaining stance.
Paying exorbitantly for Schalit - as well as for Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, both snatched in the unprovoked attack that triggered last summer's war against Hizbullah - would eventually come at the expense of other Israelis whom Hamas or Hizbullah would gain added incentive to attack. Distraught parents may not be able to engage in such calculations, but any government would be recklessly remiss if it did not.
Indeed, a week after Schalit's abduction, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert astutely stated, "Everyone knows that capitulating to terrorism today means inviting the next act of terrorism."
To date, the government has resisted the passionate but short-sighted pressure to contract a lopsided transaction at any cost. Schalit's family is understandably desperate to have the government do whatever is possible and necessary to bring him home. But many more families inevitably face similar misery if the "at any cost" approach is followed.
To judge from opinion polls, public sentiment is on the side of Schalit's father, Noam, again understandably. Israeli parents imagine themselves in the Schalits' position, and know they would want everything done if, heaven forbid, their child were to fall captive. But this humane Israeli mindset, terribly, yet again plays into Hamas's hands, abetting its psychological warfare, increasing its leverage.
Still, the very fact that Hamas has seen fit to depart from its policy of withholding any information about Schalit unless rewarded for it perhaps signifies that it may be feeling the pinch of Gaza's isolation. By distributing the Schalit tape, Hamas may have sought to upstage Monday's Sharm e-Sheikh summit, from which it was excluded, but in doing so it also indicated - even if unintentionally - that it could not hold to the same track it has followed for the past year. Until now, Hamas had never even owned up to holding him.
None of this necessarily means that Schalit's liberation is any nearer, but it may signify that Hamas isn't as impervious to external pressure as is often assumed. Precisely because of the slender chance that Hamas's vulnerability has been exposed, this is the time to increase the pressure on Hamas, not to reduce it. And it would certainly be as wrong and counterproductive today as Olmert rightly said it would be a year ago to offer Schalit's abductors the tangible triumph and encouragement of a wholesale release of Hamas convicts.