The debate about Israel’s decision to pay an exorbitant ransom to secure the release of kidnapped solider Gilad Shalit continues to rage, with many still lamenting the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian terrorists. But the real danger from this deal is not, as some have stated, that it will encourage terrorism, because Hamas needs no encouragement on that point. Rather, it is the false narrative promoted in some quarters that the deal legitimizes Hamas as a peace partner, and Israel should be pushed to open talks with the terrorist group.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said yesterday he thought the Shalit deal ought to inspire hope for the moribund peace process. The theme was taken up in earnest by Israeli left-winger Uri Dromi in today’s International Herald Tribune in which he argues that not only does the exchange prove Israel can and will deal with Hamas (despite its identity as a bloodthirsty terrorist group), but it may prove to be a harbinger of a new round of negotiations in which Hamas will take its place among the peacemakers. Nothing could be further from the truth, both in terms of Israeli intentions and that of the Palestinians.
It should be admitted the Shalit deal meant Israel was dealing with Hamas, albeit indirectly via Egyptian and German mediators. But there is nothing new about this. Israel has always needed to have contacts with the enemies on its borders. The Shalit deal is in this respect no different from the cease-fires negotiated with Hamas since it seized control of Gaza in 2006 or with the indirect talks conducted with various enemies throughout Israel’s history on procedural issues or prisoner exchanges.
But none of this means Israel has any interest in negotiating with Hamas on substantial issues. In terms of crafting peace, there is, after all, nothing worth discussing with Hamas, as its avowed purpose is Israel’s destruction and the slaughter of its Jewish citizens. It has proven impossible for even the supposed “moderates” of the more secular Fatah and the Palestinian Authority to agree to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. How then could Hamas, which opposes Israel on religious grounds and does not even pretend to want peace when addressing English-speaking audiences (as is the practice of some Fatah officials), ever accept a two-state solution?
The idea, as Dromi proposes, that Israel would make tangible concessions to the Palestinians, in exchange not for the impossible hope of peace, but for Hamas’ agreement to a 10-year cease-fire, is not only an act of hopeless naïveté but deal-making that makes the lopsided Shalit deal look like a bargain for Israel.
The optimism voiced by Sarkozy and Dromi can only be sustained if you ignore the way Palestinians have lionized released terrorists who committed acts of unspeakable murder and cruelty. The internal Jewish debate about the price of Shalit’s ransom has, unfortunately, tended to overshadow the more important story of how a Palestinian culture in which the shedding of Jewish blood is a prerequisite for both heroism and political credibility has been reaffirmed by the week’s events. The promise of some of the released killers that they will return to terrorism was no empty boast.
The Palestinian celebration of murder has made it all too apparent for most Israelis that peace is an unreachable goal in the foreseeable future. Moreover, the strengthening of Hamas by their “achievement” in successfully reaping the benefits of kidnapping has further strengthened the appeal of violence for the Palestinians.
The Shalit exchange ought to make clear any effort expended on pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians for the sake of peace is counterproductive. Those who encourage such myths are doing neither Israel nor the cause of peace any favors.