It is unusual when the hawkish National Union/NRP Party and the dovish Meretz Party reach the same conclusion on a national security issue. Their rare agreement should signal that the government must take action.
Meretz and NU/NRP agree that it is worth releasing many hundreds of prisoners with "blood on their hands" in exchange for Gilad Schalit. Meretz MK Ran Cohen understands the risk in his proposal but still exclaims, "We cannot let Schalit turn into the next Ron Arad, even if it's at the cost of releasing thousands of Palestinian prisoners."
MK Yitzhak Levy of the National Union takes this idea a step further; he's even willing to sacrifice his family honor and justice for the cause: "I would agree to the release of my daughter's murderers in exchange for Gilad Schalit's freedom," he said.
One would think that if these political arch-rivals are in agreement on the prisoner exchange issue, then the centrist government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert must also be prepared to act. Sadly, this is not the case.
Schalit's family will continue to be suspended in an ongoing nightmare that has lasted for over a year with little hope in sight.
Another myth that must be shattered if Schalit is to be returned to his home is that Israel does not negotiate with Hamas. Surely, Hamas is a reprehensible terrorist regime responsible for countless suicide bombings; but only Hamas, not Egypt, holds the key to Schalit's release. Following the lead of the UK when dealing with its hostage crisis in Iran, even the generally rightist Shas chairman Eli Yishai has called for direct talks with Hamas regarding Schalit. If Israel is really determined to free Schalit, it must be willing to damage its pride.
IN RETURN for Israel receiving Schalit, the Jewish state will probably have to release up to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. Many will argue that as tragic as it is to abandon Schalit, a prisoner exchange is not worth the price.
They have many reasons to reject a prisoner exchange. Firstly, it will lead to additional kidnappings and violence. The sad reality is that kidnappings have been taking place for many decades both with and without Israel freeing prisoners.
Israel rebuffed a prisoner trade in the case of IAF navigator Ron Arad, and his tragedy has dragged on for 21 years. Perhaps IDF soldier Nachshon Wachsman would be alive today had a trade been done. Instead, he was shot by Palestinian terrorists during an Israeli raid to save him.
Capturing soldiers will always be a favorite tactic of terrorist organizations, but Israel needs to place the imminent danger faced by Schalit over the potential future harm of dealing for his release.
A second objection to a swap is that justice will not be served for the victims of previous terrorist attacks. As painful as it might sound, Israel will need to release terrorists with blood on their hands. The list might include Palestinian terrorist Abu Mustafa, imprisoned for assassinating Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi in 2001, and Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, responsible for the deaths of five innocent Israelis.
While many will say that this isn't fair, the Middle East isn't a fair region and any deals that occur will be unsettling and imperfect. In an ideal world, Schalit would be released unconditionally, as international law demands, but this is impossible. Israel will have to pay a heavy price.
When an Israeli soldier is sent into battle and his commanders tell him everything possible will be done to return him home safely, the soldier needs to believe this is the truth. The current situation not only endangers the lives of the kidnapped soldiers but the morale of the entire military, and the country as well.
If the political leadership has the courage to send young soldiers into battle, it must have the responsibility for rescuing them, even at an extremely high price.
More than anything, a prisoner exchange will send the message loud and clear that the State of Israel values the sanctity of life above all else. It will demonstrate that sometimes strict justice needs to be disregarded for the sake of life.
It will definitely be painful for the victims' families to see the murderers of their loved ones walk out of jail, but no further stretch of prison time can bring their relatives back to life. A prisoner exchange will have a much greater value for the kidnapped soldiers' families, the morale of the entire army, and the nation, than for the Arab prisoners to merely rot in jail.
The time is right for Prime Minister Olmert to show the world that Israel loves its citizens more than it hates its enemies.
We hope, for the sake of its own people, that Hamas learns the same lesson.
The writer, a Jerusalem Post intern, plans to join the IDF's Mahal program for overseas volunteers.
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