Rattling The Cage: Time to pay Hamas's price

If we're willing to free 220 killers to get Gilad Schalit back, why not 450?

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
Finally, after nearly three years, someone has put the issue of Gilad Schalit in the right perspective. It was Tami Arad, wife of Ron Arad, explaining to Army Radio this week why she thought we should give Hamas the 450 terrorist prisoners it wants in return for our soldier. "If we wait another three years and the price goes down to 380, will we feel better?" she asked. After nearly three years, that's all we have left to negotiate over - whether to give Hamas 450 killers for Schalit, or to wait and see if Hamas drops its price to 440, or maybe to 430, or even all the way to something like 380 if we hold out for another few years. "[But] who can guarantee that there will be someone to bring back by then?" asked Arad, whose husband has been missing in action since 1986. There's no principle left for Israel to uphold. As soon as the government entered negotiations with Hamas over Schalit's release, it accepted the idea that it would have to free a large number of murderers from prison to get him back. Otherwise, there would have been nothing to talk about. The only issue was how many murderers to let go. Hamas is reportedly demanding 450 imprisoned killers (in addition to another roughly 1,000 security prisoners, whom Israel has agreed to trade). "Hamas is insisting on pretty much the same list of prisoners it came up with more than two years ago," wrote Amos Harel, Ha'aretz's military correspondent. Of Hamas's 450, the government has signed off on 220. And that's where the negotiations are stuck. So the question is this: If we're willing to free 220 killers to get Gilad Schalit back, why not 450? What risk would we be taking by freeing 450 terrorists that we wouldn't be taking by freeing 220? What principle would we be violating that we haven't already violated? Some very strong arguments have been made against the idea of freeing terrorists - certainly large numbers of them - in return for one Israeli hostage. Maybe that's the policy the government should follow - after Schalit is back home. But it's not a policy to suddenly invoke after pursuing the opposite course for nearly three years, a course that has had an unbearably tantalizing, maddening effect on Schalit's family and, to a much lesser but still very significant extent, on the entire nation. There's no telling what effect it's had on Gilad Schalit himself. So now is not the time to say "we don't make deals with terrorists," because we do. Now is the time to close the deal for Schalit. As Tami Arad said: "The three years that passed were enough time to wrangle over the price." It's not going to get much lower, if at all, and a soldier's life hangs in the balance. Afterward, we can decide whether we want to keep on making deals with terrorists. But for now, after nearly three years of indirect Israeli negotiations with Hamas, after the government has agreed to trade over 1,000 security prisoners, including 220 murderers, there is no legitimate argument to make against saying "yes" and bringing Schalit home. To those who say there must be a reasonable limit on how much we're willing to sacrifice, that Israel cannot be prepared to pay "any price at all" for its hostages, the answer is this: Hamas's price has remained virtually unchanged, and because the government has continued to negotiate, it clearly considers the price to be within reasonable limits. To those who say that releasing these killers will be devastating to the murder victims' families, I say that is regrettably true. But there are families of terror victims on both sides of this issue, and more important than the feelings of any of them is Schalit's life. And to those who say Hamas will be able to claim a huge victory over us, I don't know - if we give them 1,400 prisoners for our soldier, we'll still have about 8,500 Palestinians left in our jails while they'll have no Israelis. If they'll be able to crow, so will we. (Myself, I don't think either side will have much to crow about.) Since June 25, 2006, Schalit's captivity and the attempts to end it have been a national saga. We tried a search-and-rescue mission and it failed. Right away, we bombed Gaza like crazy, killing hundreds of terrorists and civilians, and that failed, too. We arrested dozens of elected Hamas legislators - to no effect. Most recently, we fought a war that killed 1,300 Gazans and left much of the Strip in a shambles, and Hamas's price didn't budge. So enough. If the government balks now, if it refuses to give up 450 killers when it's already agreed to give up 220, this will all have been a long, torturous tease - of Gilad Schalit, of his family, of the whole nation. Enough. Bring him home. Before it's too late. We have nothing more to lose, and we have a soldier's life to gain.