Thursday, October 20, 2011

The lesson of the Shalit deal is that it is Israel not Gaza that remains under siege

The release of Gilad Shalit is a moment for celebration. But it is also a moment to ponder on the extraordinary circumstances of Israeli survival in a desperately hostile region

Written by Robin Shepherd

The release on Tuesday of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas five years ago, in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners is a poignant moment in the recent history of the Middle East.

Emotions are both high, and mixed.

The one thing that everyone, even the BBC, is talking about is the “asymmetry” of the deal.

Imagine if the American or British governments agreed to release such vast numbers of terrorists, child-killers and assorted violent fanatics into the arms of an enemy sworn to destroy them for the return of a single, solitary captured soldier. “Imagine” is the operative word, because it never has happened and it is all but impossible to imagine that it ever would.

Our reasons are clear: however committed we are to the principle of “no soldier left behind” we know that such a deal would merely incentivise further such kidnappings in the future, thus encouraging a never ending cycle of similar such events in which the terrorists would always have the upper hand.

For many in the West, Israel’s actions are therefore perplexing. Surely, they say, Israel must know better. The Jewish state, among all states in the world, knows the dangers of making deals with terrorists. What is going on?

Of course, there are some in Israel – particularly among the many Israeli families who have suffered losses at the hands of terrorists -- who would agree with such sentiments. Nonetheless, the polls show that between 70 and 80 percent of Israelis support the deal, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is nobody’s idea of a soft touch on terrorism. That debate will run and run.

What is, in a sense, more interesting is how the whole affair demonstrates the continued failure of many in the West truly to understand the predicament Israel faces in its dealings with the Palestinians and with the Arab and Muslim world more broadly.

The key issue that needs to be understood is that unlike America, Britain or any other Western country, Israel is and always has been a nation under siege. It is surrounded on all sides by people, movements, terror groups and countries that have never accepted the Jewish state’s legitimacy, many of which actively seek its demise.

That changes the calculus of risk dramatically, and it means Israel needs to respond to events in a radically different manner from the countries that are so quick to judge it.

Even in Egypt and Jordan, the two Arab countries that have signed peace agreements with Israel, polls show extreme hostility to Israel and the Jews, with negative sentiment rising well above 90 percent according to some of the most significant surveys that have been conducted.

In recent months, Turkey – once considered an ally of Israel – has slid back into vicious anti-Israeli discourse as Islamism tightens its grip on the country.

As for the so called “moderate” Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas, it continues to name public squares after people who have perpetrated some of the cruellest acts of terrorism imaginable.

There have been others since, but perhaps the most egregious example came in 2010 with the Palestinian Authority’s decision to honour Dalal Mughrabi, perpetrator of the 1978 bus massacres which left 38 Israelis including 13 children dead, by naming a central square in Ramallah after her.

In recent opinion polls, a significant majority of the Palestinian people themselves say they only support a two-state solution with Israel as a stepping stone to a one state solution at some point in the future when Israel is wiped out for good.

Put all this together and you begin to understand what Israel is up against.

It is in that very different context from what is faced by all other Western democracies that the deal for the release of Gilad Shalit was brokered.

To be sure, one can still argue that Israel has got it wrong. But what one cannot do is equate the circumstances in which Israel operates with those in which the rest of the democratic world operates.

Hamas would have attempted to kidnap Israeli soldiers whatever the fate of Gilad Shalit. Large majorities of people across the Arab and Muslim world would have continued to dream of the destruction of Israel regardless of the nature of the deal to release him.

With that in mind, and for the sake of Gilad Shalit’s family in particular and the morale of the people of Israel generally, the Israeli government finally decided to proceed.

The day is joyous, but it is also tinged with anxiety about what might follow.

Such is life in a nation under siege.

Robin Shepherd is owner/publisher of the Commentator. His book, A State Beyond the Pale: Europe's Problem with Israel, is out in paperback.

Comment: As I wrote yesterday there are some unintended consequences to this release of prisoners. The message
I delivered has already begun. What did I suggest? The International community and local political groups will use this trade and communication process to establish a new baseline for negotiation. The message will be something like this: "Now that you have crossed your own red lines never to negotiate with such a terrorist group and now that you have demonstrated the minimal price you are willing to pay, there is no longer any reason for you not to ..." Please note the wonderful "Quartet" of smart ones who yesterday gave us in Israel 3 months to come up with final border decisions. What Bibi needed to do , an hour after greeting Gilad, welcoming him home ,he should have gone back to Jerusalem and spoken to the international community. He should have said: This will not happen again. The terrorist group has extorted a high price from us and our duty to return our soldier drove my decision. The international community was complicit in this extortion and we shall not enable you to do this again to us. Where were the peace groups, the NGO's , human rights groups, where was the UN, Red Cross? In the 5 years of Gilad's captivity he was never allowed a visit to confirm his vialbility or quality of life-you raised not even one shout, a whimper only once or twice. This makes you complicit. Do not talk to us about humanity and human rights given your lack of human behavior. Hamas, Fatah, Hizzbollah and all other groups who have stated their goal is to send us away from our home land, you are hereby on notice. I could have but did not use other measures to bring our soldier home. Do not use the oft repeated "but you can not collectively punish...", this is but a ploy and tactic. You are not the victim so stop acting like one. Your actions are childish, start acting like grown ups. We have multiple possibilities if there is a next time, something within minutes of the exchange your leaders and freed terrorist shouted to the world you would begin again. Dont behave inhumanely, it will not bode well for you.

This is what he should have said!!

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