No one should mistake the afterglow in Israel from the release of Gilad Shalit, or the rare sight of Israelis and Palestinians showing mutual flexibility and actually concluding an agreement, as hopeful signs for the prospects of peace. Just the opposite: Shalit’s release, in addition to being an undeniable security risk for Israelis, is giving the Right yet another boost, and making relations with the Palestinians even worse, as hard to imagine as that may be.
Freeing 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, including many terrorists who took part in deadly attacks on Israeli civilians, is the most “left-wing” thing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ever done, with the possible exception of the Wye agreement with Yasser Arafat in his first term. The right wing – the settlers, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Shas, much of Likud – is now presenting the bill.
As Hamas emerges the big winner and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas the big loser in the Shalit deal, Ha’aretz reports that the IDF brass is imploring the government to give Abbas something to show his people, such as a substantial release of prisoners and the transfer of territory to PA control. But the government isn’t interested; it wants to continue “punishing” Abbas for his statehood bid at the UN. The prospect of Abbas and the PA losing power doesn’t faze Netanyahu or the cabinet. “We don’t want the Palestinian Authority to collapse, but if it happens, it won’t be the end of the world,” an adviser to Netanyahu told Ha’aretz on Monday.
Later that day, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the newspaper, “If there is one obstacle that should be removed immediately, it is [Abbas]. If he were to return the keys and resign, it would not be a threat, but a blessing.”
That’s on the diplomatic front. On the security front, everyone is eager to show that they’re tough on terror, that they’re not pushovers, that after the 1,000-for-Shalit deal, it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy. This is the message from Defense Minister Ehud Barak, this is the mood of the Knesset, and this is plan for dealing with future kidnappings that was drawn up by the blue-ribbon Shamgar Committee, due to be released any day.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s right flank, in the government and opposition both, is pressing him to crack down hard on every instance of Palestinian violence. After a teenage Israeli boy was stabbed in Jerusalem, Knesset member Danny Danon, leader of the Likud’s ultra-hawkish faction, called on the army to demolish terrorists’ homes. “Following the generosity shown in the Shalit deal, the time has come to show determination.” Opposition parliamentarian Arieh Eldad called for the assassination of Hamas leaders in Gaza.
On the international front, the pressure seems to be off Netanyahu. The Western world has given him credit for taking a brave decision, for showing flexibility, for what it may wishfully, mistakenly interpret as a “confidence-building measure” for the Palestinians.
In short, after the Shalit release, the Right is breathing down Netanyahu’s neck, while the UN, Europe and the rest of the West is taking a couple of steps back.
And once again, there’s no evading the fact that putting hundreds of Palestinians “with blood on their hands” on the streets, including the streets of the West Bank, poses the risk that Israelis will get killed – or kidnapped – on account of this deal. Such threats are already coming out of the Hamas leadership and its supporters. As I write this Monday evening, Jerusalem is on “high alert” for a terror attack. If these threats materialize, the “peace index” will sink even lower, as hard to imagine as that may be.
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