Thursday, June 24, 2010

24-Jun-10: How the opportunities to free Gilad Schalit were squandered

One of this site's two bloggers has an op-ed article in today's Jerusalem Post, both the paper and on-line editions.
The squandered opportunities to free Gilad Schalit
The Gaza blockade provided a potentially effective negotiating tool. But when was it used as serious leverage for the captured soldier’s return? Oddly, never.
By now you shouldn’t be left wondering. When the Israeli media and politicians promise that Gilad Schalit will be freed “at any cost,” it is crystal clear what they mean. They should not be taken literally.

Instead, they are asserting that the release of convicted murderers must not be allowed to impede Schalit’s return home. Other safer, saner options for rescuing him are not even up for discussion. The Gaza blockade, for example, provides a potentially effective negotiating tool. But when has it been used as serious leverage for Schalit’s return? Oddly, never.

And why not? True, the blockade has brought censure and isolation in large doses. But all that pales beside the damage we will surely suffer if we release hordes of unrepentant imprisoned terrorists.

After the intense international outrage over the flotilla attack two weeks ago, the blockade is fast disintegrating.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, under pressure from our allies, has already decided to relaxed it and appears poised to open our land border with Gaza entirely.

The only halfhearted use that has been made of the blockade in relation to Schalit has been to request that most basic right due to captives but still withheld by Hamas: Red Cross visits.

Last week, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman assumed a tough tone on that point: “The minimal condition for lifting the blockade is for the Red Cross to be allowed to regularly visit Gilad Schalit,” he stated. “As long as this condition is not fulfilled, there is no reason to change the situation.”

But after four years of captivity, Red Cross visits are a pathetically mousy request. Freedom, and nothing less, is what we should be demanding.

THERE IS another tactic with a proven track record that seems to have been ignored. It has succeeded when European, Australian and American citizens were held hostage by Somali, Afghan and Iraqi kidnappers.

It is ransom.

In February 2009, following Operation Cast Lead, the US government pledged $900 million toward reconstruction in Gaza and the West Bank. However, as The Los Angeles Times reported last week, US officials “acknowledged the difficulty of distributing the funds, especially because Hamas controls Gaza and is considered a terrorist organization.”

Earlier this month, when the subject of that pledge arose at a State Department press briefing, the assistant secretary’s response was ambiguous. Given these facts, it is probably safe to infer that the money has not been transferred.

Subsequently, after meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas two weeks ago, US President Barack Obama committed to an additional infusion of $400 million in aid to Gaza. His stated aim is to subsidize housing, school construction and business development. To bypass Hamas, State Department officials explained that the funds may be distributed through relief organizations. But will that solve anything? It is no secret that Hamas maintains a network of tunnels which are being used for weapons smuggling.

And it is obvious that even if the specific dollar bills donated by the US do not reach Hamas hands, they are fungible.

Other Hamas funds will be freed up to enlarge its arsenal even more.

Israel can and must urge the US to link its pledges to Schalit’s return.

ON THE day in 2004 that my daughter Malki’s murderer, Ahlam Tamimi, a Hamas operative, was sentenced to 16 life sentences, I vowed to do everything in my power to keep her incarcerated until she draws her last breath.

She left 15 Israelis dead, eight of them children, in the terror attack she engineered at a Jerusalem restaurant. She was videotaped smiling with satisfaction on learning precisely how many victims were children. She has told reporters she expects to be freed soon. She has never expressed a shred of remorse.

We who believe that mass murderers like Tamimi must not walk free after six years – or ever – are duty bound to raise our voices. But we must act not only when we fear their release is imminent. We should compel our leaders to tackle this challenge by every available means and at every opportunity.

To mark the fourth anniversary of Gilad Schalit’s captivity, on June 25, his tortured family has launched a fresh campaign to galvanize the public.

This is an appropriate time to eradicate the misconception with which Israelis have been indoctrinated: that Schalit will be freed only by the release of hundreds of terrorists.

Time is running out.
The writer is a Jerusalem-based freelancer. She cofounded the Malki Foundation in her daughter’s memory. It provides support for Israeli families of all faiths who care at home for a special-needs child.

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