I don’t usually worry about whether Israel will be tough enough, but I am worried now.
Like most Israelis, I supported the Shalit deal. It was the right thing to do, and I applaud the Prime Minister for doing it.
Nonetheless, like many others, I did not see it as a victory but as a defeat. Apparently lacking the intelligence data to make military action feasible, Israel’s government signed the deal because it had no other option. And the price was painfully high. Israel did what she had to do, but let’s not pretend that it was a victory for the Jewish state.
What distresses me is what happens when the next Israeli hostage is taken—something that is surely coming, sooner rather than later. It is frightening to imagine Israel spending the next 5 years reliving the experience of the last 5. In fact, it is unthinkable. A gloating, swaggering Hamas, commanding the attention of the media and presenting itself as the savior of the Palestinian people, will not only be morally repugnant; it will also destroy what is left of Abbas’ credibility, and put a permanent end to peace negotiations of any sort.
In these circumstances, Israel will need to consider other things. She will need to consider saying “no” to lopsided deals and meaning it. She will need to consider very tough military responses. She will need to consider holding Hamas’ leadership directly responsible for any kidnappings and acting accordingly.
But will she be tough enough to do it? I don’t know. I am not encouraged by all the talk that the current Shamgar Commission will recommend “rules” for hostage negotiations intended to tie the hands of future governments. These rules will not work. There will be loopholes and pressure from the Knesset and the media, not to mention the Shalit precedent itself. The parents of future hostages, understandably enough, will be as insistent on freedom for their children as the Shalits were for Gilad. In short, the only way that Israel will escape the threat that Hamas now poses will be for courageous national leaders to speak openly and honestly about the need to resist such pressure—and to do it now.
Of course, flexibility on the issue of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority is needed along with toughness on Hamas. Such flexibility is in Israel’s interest under all circumstances, and is especially important at this moment. Her international standing is weaker than many want to admit, particularly in Europe. And if she finds it necessary to take military action in Gaza, one can only imagine the uproar that will ensue. It would, therefore, be wise and prudent for Israel’s leaders to join with the Americans in finding ways to break the impasse on talks with the PA.