(photo credit: Channel 10 [file])
This week's news cycle began with a flurry of rumors that a deal for the release of Gilad Schalit, a Hamas hostage for over 950 days, might shortly be wrapped up. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak held an unusual Saturday night meeting to discuss Schalit and a Gaza cease-fire.
The troika met again prior to Sunday's cabinet meeting. Afterwards Barak updated President Shimon Peres on the Schalit-cease-fire negotiations between Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad and Egypt's Omar Suleiman. Peres will need to grant 1,000 pardons to the imprisoned terrorists who are reportedly to be exchanged for Schalit.
The surprise appearance in Cairo Saturday of Mahmoud Zahar, a top Gaza-based Hamas leader, spurred rumors that Schalit's fate would be announced by Tuesday. Zahar is now in Damascus with Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal. Hamas "inside" and Hamas "outside" are at odds over the parameters of a cease-fire deal and conditions for Schalit's release. Even within Gaza, military wing head Ahmed Jabari has reportedly taken a comparatively harder line in the negotiations brokered by Suleiman.
Meanwhile, Olmert told the cabinet that he is the one in charge of efforts to free Schalit, and that those who leaked the rumors that generated Sunday's headlines both exaggerated the chances for progress and damaged the prospects of freeing our soldier.
SCHALIT RUMORS touch an emotional nerve in the Israeli psyche every time they come to the fore. Hamas has hardheartedly refused to allow the Red Cross to visit him, so no one can credibly guarantee that he is alive and well.
Knowing what we know about Hamas's malice, the idea that our young soldier has been their hostage for so long fills Israelis with dread. We shudder to think about his physical and psychological well-being. So when Israelis deliberate what blood ransom to pay for our soldier's freedom, the quarrel takes place within Clal Yisrael - the House of Israel - where no one has a monopoly on compassion for Gilad and his parents, Aviva and Noam.
Hamas is supposedly offering a one-and-a-half-year tahadiyeh, or temporary cease-fire, in return for a complete lifting of restrictions on what can go into Strip. The first phase of this arrangement would see a partial opening of the crossings and a cease-fire. Next, Schalit would be released in exchange for the terrorists.
The Rafah crossing into Egypt from Gaza would, reportedly, be staffed by Mahmoud Abbas's PA, in the presence of Hamas, and with EU monitors on the scene.
The Egyptian package also includes plans for talks between Fatah and Hamas to reestablish their unity government - like the one which existed before June 2007, when Hamas ousted Fatah from Gaza. In its quest for international acceptance Hamas needs Fatah, while a fast-fading Fatah is desperate for a rapprochement with Hamas.
How Israel would stop arms smuggling beneath the Philadelphi Corridor under the Egyptian-brokered deal is anyone's guess.
WE LACK confirmed specifics, granted, but how is this deal different from the one Israel has been rejecting since June 25, 2006 - the day Palestinian gunmen violated our border, killed the forgotten Lt. Hanan Barak and St.-Sgt Pavel Slutsker, and took Schalit captive? Why do Israeli politicians speak in code about the "painful" price to be paid if the deal goes ahead? Don't they have the moral fiber to name names?
Do Olmert, Livni and Barak really intend to free Hamas's top West Bank terrorists? The masterminds of the Hebrew University and Sbarro bombings? The engineer of the Pessah massacre in Netanya? What will they say to those who risked their lives to capture these fiends in the first place?
Moreover, the troika purportedly plan to parlay Israel's capitulation to Hamas into another gesture to "help Abu Mazen," this time by freeing one of the main arsonists of the second intifada, Marwan Barghouti, and wiping away his culpability for the slayings of dozens of Israelis.
We all want Gilad Schalit back home. The question is one of price and consequence. Is it truly in keeping with Jewish compassion to purchase the freedom of one beloved captive at the almost certain cost of unleashing fresh acts of terrorism on our buses, in our cafes and malls, and on our roads - violence that would send many more innocents to their deaths?
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