While an anxious Israeli society awaited word on the fate of three kidnapped teenagers this week, the government in Jerusalem talked tough but was constrained by the realities of the situation. And the terror group Hamas appears protected by a thin, artificial veneer of diplomatic respectability.
To avoid a showdown over a Palestinian government anchored by Hamas support, the U.S. has chosen to close its eyes, hold its nose and ignore the assessment by both Israeli and Palestinian Authority intelligence that Hamas was responsible for the kidnapping of the three yeshiva students. Hamas remains committed to the destruction of Israel, and to acts of terror, including seeking to murder soldiers or civilians or kidnap them in hope of securing the release of terrorists being held by Israel. Although the Israeli army and security forces have thwarted 64 kidnap attempts since 2013, according to the government, the terrorists were successful this time.
Some blame Israel, and pressure from the U.S., for creating a dynamic where Arab prisoners, many with blood on their hands, have been freed. This happened, most famously, in the case of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was returned in 2011 after more than five years in Hamas captivity. In return, Israel freed 1,027 prisoners, almost 300 of whom were serving life sentences for planning or carrying out terror attacks. This past year Israel, in three stages, freed 78 prisoners who were serving long terms as part of a U.S.-brokered deal to keep peace talks alive with the Palestinian Authority. When the talks faltered and the PA decided to take its case for enhanced statehood status to the United Nations, Israel refused to release the fourth and last group of 26 additional prisoners. But the precedent has been set and Israel has been willing to go to extraordinary lengths to bring back its own — even, as in previous exchanges, when those being returned are no longer alive.
Such actions reflect a deep and abiding concern for the welfare of every Jewish soul, and an effort to make good on the promise to bring every soldier home. What parent would not want the government and army to do everything possible to rescue his or her child? Yet with every released terrorist, there is the possibility of his shedding more blood as well as the continuance of kidnappings as a strategic tactic.
Like so much of the Mideast conflict, there are no easy answers here but rather choices of bad or worse. The only comfort for now is the reminder that, as Jews all over the world join in prayer and protest, we are one people with a shared history and fate. If only we could hold on to that feeling of collective goodwill beyond times of crisis.