Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Shalit Caught in the Middle of ‘No-Win’ Negotiations

Another deadline for "zero hour" has been passed as rumors, leaks and more talks drown out the silence of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, whose condition still remains unknown. The saga may linger on for several more days, if not more.

Israel has refused to divulge details of the proposed trade of approximately 1,000 terrorists for the soldier, who was kidnapped three and a half years ago.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the other six ministers of the mini-Cabinet, whom he trusts to honor a gag order on dicussions, have delivered their unpublished decision to German negotiator Ernst Uhrlau, who has postponed for another day a meeting with Hamas officials.

Most estimates are that the sticking point in the proposal deal is the prospective destination of “heavy-duty” terrorists with “blood on their hands.” The general assumption is that the Prime Minister and at least half of the other members of the mini-Cabinet insist that they be deported outside of Judea and Samaria, a condition Hamas does not accept.

As with previous negotiations, Hamas has floated various and contradictory rumors while top Israeli officials have measured their words.

“Our top priority is to bring Gilad home," said Defense Minister Ehud Barak. "Not at any price, but in every possible and appropriate way." He is considered to be in favor of freeing terrorists who were convicted for involvement in murderous attacks, including the Park Hotel Passover bombing in 2002 that left 30 Jews dead and scores more wounded.

Prime Minister Netanyahu declared there is a “need to retrieve captives and the need to protect Israeli citizens from future harm."

The proposed deal has left Israeli in a virtual no-win position of risking Shalit’s life by rejecting a deal but also risking the lives of Israelis if the terrorists who might be freed follow previous patterns of returning to attack Israelis. Nearly 180 Jews have been murdered in recent years by terrorists who were freed after promising not to return to acts of violence.

Defense Minister Barak admitted that Israel has slipped into a pattern of being forced into releasing terrorists either for political purposes or for kidnapped Israelis, some of whom have been returned home in coffins. “The Israeli government must change its policies on such deals,” he said, while adding that the current government inherited a situation from the previous government.

Shalit was kidnapped while Ehud Olmert was Prime Minister. Immediately after the abduction, Olmert announced he would not conduct negotiations with terrorists and later vowed not to resume diplomatic talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas until Shalit was returned. As time went on, he relinquished both positions, leading to off-and-on mediated talks for more than two years.


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