There are times when it becomes truly difficult to explain the obtuseness of Israelis. And, for a change, I do not mean leftist Israelis, who by and large are simply beyond cure.
One of worst illustrations of non-thinking on the part of non-leftist Israelis is the loud public campaign of street protests in Israel demanding that more be done to obtain the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.
First, let me emphasize that I am as sympathetic to Shalit and his family as anyone else in Israel. I cannot imagine their pain and suffering. If a member of my own family were in Shalit’s shoes, I probably would behave like members of his family. So I have no complaints about how family members are dealing with this.
Second, I was opposed to Israel’s agreeing to any cease-fire with the Gaza barbarians unless Shalit was released. In the summer of 2006, when Haifa was under bombardment by rockets from Lebanon – one of which landed three blocks from my home – I posted a public call to the government of Israel. I demanded that it not sign any cease-fire agreement out of concern for us civilians in Haifa under bombardment, and that they continue the war until Israel’s strategic goals were achieved. We Haifa civilians would manage just fine, thank you very much.
I similarly demanded that no cease-fire with Hamas be signed ending Operation Cast Lead until Shalit was home.
So just what is wrong with Israelis holding street protests demanding the release of Gilad Shalit?
The first problem is that these protests issue demands to and put pressure on the Israeli government rather than on Hamas. Hamas is indifferent to the desires and passions of the demonstrators. By demanding that “everything” be done to obtain Shalit’s release, the only real effect of the protests is to raise the price it will take to obtain Shalit’s freedom. The protests also make such a release more remote and unlikely.
Give the Hamas terrorist leaders some credit. They can see the passionate demonstrations for Shalit, the demands that “more” must be done to obtain his release, the bumpers stickers on his behalf, the billboards, the web pages. The terrorists understand perfectly well that all this only serves to increase the pressure on the Israeli government to offer ever-greater capitulations.
Israel has already offered to release more than a thousand terrorists, including mass murderers, to obtain Shalit’s release. Hamas turned that offer down.
And why should Hamas agree to any deal when Israeli streets are filled with demonstrators demanding that Israel sweeten its offer without limit?
The only times Israel has dug in its heels during previous negotiations with Hamas was when it refused to release a small number of high-profile ultra-terrorists and when it decided against freeing terrorists with Israeli citizenship. The Shalit protesters are undercutting even those remaining red lines of national dignity.
Complaints in Israel that “not enough is being done” to win Shalit’s release invite additional demands from Hamas officials, who of course are only too happy to escalate their extortion. Israel has already frozen construction on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem (though that was a capitulation more to Obama than to Hamas).
Suppose Hamas demanded a moratorium on Israel’s Law of Return in exchange for releasing Shalit? Suppose Hamas demanded that Israel admit 50,000 “Palestinian refugees” as a first step toward implementing the “Palestinian Right of Return”? Suppose Hamas demanded unlimited supply of military materials to its armed forces in Gaza?
Resisting such ultimatums becomes all the more difficult when Israeli streets are filled with protesters insisting that Israel is just not doing enough.
Hamas leaders will never release Shalit as long as they think they can get more out of Israel as part of a deal. The terrorists will never strike any deal as long as they believe that even more dramatic capitulations from Israel are there for the asking.
The street protests make it clear to Hamas that the bottom of the barrel is still far down, with lots of grab room left before it is reached.
A far more effective strategy to win Shalit’s release would be to organize demonstrations throughout Israel demanding that Israel offer Hamas nothing at all in exchange for his release. Bumper stickers and billboards should feature a photo of Al Pacino as Michael Corleone proclaiming: “To Hamas, we offer you nothing.”
The high price being demanded now for Shalit is nothing more than the collateral consequence of Israel’s past releases of hundreds of murderers. And if a thousand terrorists are released tomorrow to win Shalit’s release, more Israelis will be kidnapped and the next “deal” for their release will cost Israel far, far more.
From the very beginning, Israel should have embarked on a proactive muscular campaign to obtain Shalit’s release. It’s still not too late. In 1976 Israel used force to free a planeload of Jews and Israelis kidnapped by Arab terrorists and taken to Entebbe, Uganda. That courageous Israel of yesteryear is today reduced to begging and pleading with the thugs of Hamas.
Steven Plaut, a professor at Haifa University, is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.