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At least part of Al-Hayat's reporting on a purported deal taking shape for the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the newspaper now admits, was incorrect. Here's hoping that much of the rest is off the mark, as well.
It's not that Israel is anything but eager to see the 20-year-old soldier return home safely and swiftly. We all long to see Shalit reunited with his family, in fact. But it is difficult to see how the wildly asymmetrical deal Israel is reportedly considering, in which 800 Palestinian terrorists currently held in Israeli prisons would be released, is either morally tenable or wise.
Israelis have already had several occasions to regret such lopsided exchanges. Of the thousands of security detainees and terrorists released over the past 20 years in exchange for soldiers and in political gestures, hundreds have returned to terror activity. Put simply, releasing security prisoners has, in numerous cases, created a clear and present danger to Israeli lives.
Articulating this two months ago, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the cabinet that "releasing Palestinian prisoners to Hamas would be the end of the moderates. It would send a signal to all the international players that Israel only knows how to talk after a kidnapping - and only with the extremists, not the moderates."
There are those who would say that it is possible to disregard this bitter reality because the IDF's operations in Gaza since the Shalit kidnapping have been so painful as to restore deterrence. These operations have indeed been extremely effective; about 200 alleged terrorists and kingpins have been killed in close to three months. But they were also necessary, regardless of the abduction that triggered them, to address months of Kassam attacks and other manifestations of a growing terrorist threat under the aegis of the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority.
There are similar problems concerning the negotiations that are, again reportedly, under way with Hizbullah over the return of reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, captured in an attack just inside the northern border much like the one in which Shalit was taken in the South.
That attack prompted a harsh Israeli response - escalating into a war that, in addition to inflicting a tremendous amount of damage on Hizbullah and Lebanon, led to the loss of more than 150 Israeli lives.
Whether or not you believe Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah's recent comment that, had he known how severely Israel would respond to the July 12 attack, he would not have ordered its execution, there is one undeniable aspect of his calculations: He believed that "acquiring" even a few Israeli soldiers would net him several hundred Arab prisoners in return. Israel has been prepared to pay dearly for its sons - and, unfortunately but undeniably, because of that willingness, pays an even greater price by inviting further kidnappings.
At least in the case of Hizbullah, Israel holds the bodies of fighters killed in the recent conflict and other Hizbullah gunmen captured during the war. It is, surely, unthinkable that the government would so much as contemplate including others that it holds in any exchange with Hizbullah.
But the international community has already stated clearly that the release of all three prisoners by Hamas and Hizbullah should be immediate and unconditional. It is not clear why Israel, which itself insisted that the soldiers' release be unconditional, would now be bargaining for their release.
Why not press the international community to increase its pressure on both parties - Hizbullah and Hamas - rather than assume that the commitments the IDF and the battered Israeli civilian population battled so hard to obtain are meaningless?
Israel has a huge moral commitment to its kidnapped soldiers - to do all it can to bring them home. But it also has a moral commitment to those soldiers' comrades, as Olmert himself rightly argued, to reduce, not increase, the risk of them being kidnapped in the first place.
It is still possible to use other means of increasing the pressure on the PA and Hizbullah, both diplomatic and economic; it is still possible to demand a price for kidnapping Israelis. The price that our enemies are asking for our soldiers, meanwhile - a price that essentially amounts to more terror and more kidnappings - is one Israel cannot afford to pay.
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