Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff write in Haaretz:
If someone were to offer Ehud Olmert the possibility of drawing a thick, black line through all of the events of the past year, presumably the prime minister would gladly accept it. It isn’t just the war in Lebanon. It is also the affair of the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit two and a half weeks earlier, and the failed “Summer Rain” military operation in the Gaza Strip in the wake of the kidnapping, which did not bring Shalit back and did not yield any other significant accomplishments.
Here are two of the outstanding statements from that period that Olmert would no doubt prefer to forget: On June 26, one day after Shalit was abducted: “The question of the release of [Palestinian] prisoners [in return for Shalit] is not at all on the agenda of the government of Israel.” On July 1, a statement from the Foreign Ministry on Olmert’s behalf: “There will not be any deal. The soldier Shalit will be released, or else we will be compelled to act to release him.” Behind the scenes Olmert’s people were constantly briefing and reminding journalists: The aim is to break the old rules of the game. Israel will act so that the terror organizations, first in the territories and afterward in Lebanon, will lose the desire to abduct more people.
Since then more than eight months have elapsed. The appetite of the would-be abductors has perhaps been tempered – in light of the many losses among the Palestinians and the Lebanese – but the incentive is still there. Israel is now negotiating the release of thousands of prisoners in return for Shalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, in two separate channels.
The numbers reported here seem to be a bit excessive. 1400::1 is a very high price to pay for a prisoner exchange with no assurances that this behavior will cease, that rockets will no longer be targeted from Gaza into Israel, with no declaration of both the de jure and de facto existence of Israel (what other state requires this of their neighbors?) As regular readers of this blog know, I am not opposed to the notion of negotiation with one’s political enemies. It must be clear, however, that any negotiations that occur do not amount to a list of demands by one side as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. 1400::1 or even 1400::3 borders on a take-it-or-leave-it demand.
It is clear that negotiations require two sides that are willing to engage each other in meaningful talks. No reasonable person can enter talks that place demands so far out of reach that they don’t pass the giggle test. All one can do is giggle at a demand that 1400 prisoners, each with, to use the Israeli phrase, blood on his hands, in exchange for from 1 to 3 kidnapped soldiers. The demand is simply ridiculous.
If Hamas truly intends to negotiate with Israel as its leadership has indicated in recent days then it is up to that leadership to drop their ridiculous take-it-or-leave-it demands and sit down as honest negotiators. Both sides should negotiate hard, but reasonably. Most importantly, both sides must be willing to make concessions to the other, small ones that can be monitored and deemed successful at first, and then larger ones. In the end, neither side can resort to violence the second one does not get its own way. It is time for a new way of thinking, for the playground bullies to stand aside and let the people negotiate an end to nearly a century of violence.