It’s completely understandable that the parents of Israel’s captive soldiers are doing all they can to bring their sons home. In a nation where most sons serve in the army, the sentiments of anxious parents carry a lot more sway than they do in America (Remember Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son in the Iraq war?). But that doesn’t mean that the parents of Israel’s captive soldiers should dictate Israeli policy, Israeli columnists and pundits caution.
On Wednesday night, Miki Goldwasser penned a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert demanding that he accede to Hezbollah’s demands for the release of convicted murderer Samir Kuntar in exchange for the return of her son, Ehud Goldwasser, who was taken captive in a July 2006 cross-border attack. The letter, which was carried by all the Israeli papers, argued that Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah will not stop attacking Israel until the release of Kuntar, a Lebanese Druse who snuck into Israel in 1979 and killed four people, including a 4-year-old girl and her father. Goldwasser wrote:
If Kuntar is not considered a bargaining chip today, more kidnappings will follow, perhaps involving Israeli civilians touring abroad this time. Nasrallah is determined to bring Kuntar back come hell or high water.
Meanwhile, a furious Noam Shalit, father of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, demanded that Israel reject any cease-fire offer from Hamas that does not include his son’s return, pledging to take his fight to court to thwart the cease-fire.
But Israel knows that Hamas will not back down on its demand for a cease-fire as a precondition to a prisoner swap deal involving Shalit, and it is dangling both the carrot and the stick in front of the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip. Israel has gone ahead with the cease-fire that took effect Thursday morning, but at the same time Olmert is warning that the truce is Hamas’ last chance to avoid a major IDF invasion of Gaza. For now, word is that negotiations to secure Shalit’s release will resume next week.
After calling on Olmert last week to accept a cease-fire deal, Ha’aretz praised Thursday’s truce. Ynet’s Sever Plocker slammed it, saying it destroyed the only leverage Israel had with Hamas, while Ynet’s Uri Misgav wrote that the lull of a cease-fire could create positive conditions for negotiations to free Shalit.
Ha’aretz’s Ari Shavit writes that a confrontation between Hamas and Israel is inevitable, but Israel should try a cease-fire first to demonstrate that it has exhausted all avenues for dealing with the group.
Of course, will any Israeli effort ever be considered enough by those who blame Israel’s isolation of Hamas for its extremism and terrorism?
In Thursday’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof makes clear who he thinks are to blame for Hamas’ rockets (and, need we remember, bus bombings, shooting attacks and civil war with Fatah): Israeli and American hard-liners:
If the U.S. and Israel had formed a Joint Commission to Support Hamas Extremists and Bolster Iranian Influence, they could hardly have done a better job. The episode is the latest evidence that hard-liners in Israel, Palestine and America all reinforce each other. Arab terrorism led to the rise of Israeli hawks and to two invasions of Lebanon. The first Israeli invasion helped give birth to Hezbollah, and then the Israeli assaults on Palestinian police helped nurture Hamas.
So while Israelis denounce Hezbollah and Hamas, they helped create them. And while Palestinians denounce the separation barrier, their suicide bombings built it.
Kristoff concludes: “We should talk to Hamas, not because negotiations will necessarily get anywhere, but because a failure to negotiate will necessarily get nowhere.”