Kasher: New set of questions emerging after deal

Member of team set up to determine prisoner swap policy speaks to 'Post'.

regevgoldwasserschalit  (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
The time has come to adopt a policy regarding the government's stance on prisoner exchanges, and it should include a different price for soldiers who are alive and those that are dead, Asa Kasher, a member of a new Defense Ministry team set up to determine policy on the issue, has told The Jerusalem Post. After the cabinet approved the exchange of Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar and other Hizbullah fighters for abducted soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, the raging debate over the government's decision shifted from if the decision should be made to how similar decisions might be made in the future. Now that the deal has gone through, a new set of questions is emerging, and Kasher, a professor at Tel Aviv University who wrote the IDF Code of Conduct in 1992, said he believed that an overarching code of policy, which would apply to future negotiations, was long overdue. Defense Minister Ehud Barak appointed Kasher a member of the team assigned the task of formulating a future Israeli policy, together with former Supreme Court Justice Meir Shamgar and Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yaron. Defense officials said that the new policy would go into effect after the soldiers currently in captivity - Gilad Schalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser - were returned home. The call to formulate a clear policy for dealing with instances of kidnapped soldiers and not make "crazy deals" in negotiations with terrorists, which will only increase their motivation to abduct additional troops, was made in January by the Winograd Committee in its final report. "I think that every discussion within the framework of the government or the public cannot start from scratch," Kasher said last week. "We can't have a great debate over this issue every time. I think the principles should be initially debated and then they should become policy." Kasher also suggested that the long-winded and public nature of the latest prisoner exchange may have cost the government bargaining room in its dealings with Hizbullah, an occurrence he says mustn't happen again. Declining to elaborate, Kasher said that, "certain expressions voiced in the past months caused damage to the negotiations, and possibly set the price higher. What we need are principles that apply everywhere, so that we don't go back to debating them every time." Now that Kasher has been appointed to the committee that will oversee the creation of those principles, some of the suggestions he hinted at last week are likely to become reality. Included in an ideal set of principles, Kasher said, would be an official statement of the government's duty to soldiers and civilians who are "at the disposal of the enemy". "If an Israeli is in jail in Los Angeles, the government will work to bring him back to Israel, and possibly even have him serve time in a prison here. All the more so for our soldiers," Kasher said. "We sent them there, it's our duty to bring them back." Other principles, Kasher added, should include the government and the IDF being fully committed to bringing those soldiers back, "whether they're alive or dead." "The government and the IDF should be involved." "The United States has 80,000 MIAs from the wars it participated in during the 20th century," Kasher said. "They are all still considered 'open files'. This should be the case with us - we should look for them until we find them." Thirdly, Kasher made it clear that government policy should dictate the difference between soldiers who are alive and those who are dead. "We should let all of our enemies know that we pay a different price for soldiers who are alive than those who are dead," Kasher said. "Whatever the price is, they will continue to try and hurt us. They don't need our help in finding the motivation."