This week's news cycle began with a flurry of rumors that a deal for the release of Gilad Schalit, a Hamas hostage for over 950 days, might shortly be wrapped up. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak held an unusual Saturday night meeting to discuss Schalit and a Gaza cease-fire.
The troika met again prior to Sunday's cabinet meeting. Afterwards Barak updated President Shimon Peres on the Schalit-cease-fire negotiations between Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad and Egypt's Omar Suleiman. Peres will need to grant 1,000 pardons to the imprisoned terrorists who are reportedly to be exchanged for Schalit.
Of course, nothing has come of this. But the critical part of the piece is its attempt to bring some sober and reality-based reflection to the public perception of the horrible dilemma facing decision makers.
SCHALIT RUMORS touch an emotional nerve in the Israeli psyche every time they come to the fore. Hamas has hardheartedly refused to allow the Red Cross to visit him, so no one can credibly guarantee that he is alive and well.
Knowing what we know about Hamas's malice, the idea that our young soldier has been their hostage for so long fills Israelis with dread. We shudder to think about his physical and psychological well-being. So when Israelis deliberate what blood ransom to pay for our soldier's freedom, the quarrel takes place within Clal Yisrael - the House of Israel - where no one has a monopoly on compassion for Gilad and his parents, Aviva and Noam.
This is the first terrible prong and the one that no one wants to talk about. The "guarantees" that Gilad is alive, let alone well, are all empty and all rely upon trust of those who cannot and should not be trusted. How many Israeli soldiers have been returned from captivity well? How many have been returned alive?
But there's more.
WE LACK confirmed specifics, granted, but how is this deal different from the one Israel has been rejecting since June 25, 2006 - the day Palestinian gunmen violated our border, killed the forgotten Lt. Hanan Barak and St.-Sgt Pavel Slutsker, and took Schalit captive? Why do Israeli politicians speak in code about the "painful" price to be paid if the deal goes ahead? Don't they have the moral fiber to name names?
Do Olmert, Livni and Barak really intend to free Hamas's top West Bank terrorists? The masterminds of the Hebrew University and Sbarro bombings? The engineer of the Pessah massacre in Netanya? What will they say to those who risked their lives to capture these fiends in the first place?
Moreover, the troika purportedly plan to parlay Israel's capitulation to Hamas into another gesture to "help Abu Mazen," this time by freeing one of the main arsonists of the second intifada, Marwan Barghouti, and wiping away his culpability for the slayings of dozens of Israelis.
The second prong, the quantifiable price to be paid, truly boggles the mind. Especially in light of time that has passed since the same deal was supposedly offered. It goes without saying that the timing is suspect. No, "suspect" is way too kind a word.
We all want Gilad Schalit back home. The question is one of price and consequence. Is it truly in keeping with Jewish compassion to purchase the freedom of one beloved captive at the almost certain cost of unleashing fresh acts of terrorism on our buses, in our cafes and malls, and on our roads - violence that would send many more innocents to their deaths?
And this is the most terrible of all, the future price, the price that can't be defined or quantified. How many more will die by these already bloody hands, how many more will be abducted and held, their families and friends and again the whole country in daily agony, because this tactic has been proven to work? Enough already.
But in the end, it really doesn't look as if there was ever really a deal in the offing. Once again, after succeeding in provoking Israeli leaders into public speculation about how far they will go, how low they will bend, and after all the demoralization that is always bound to accompany such speculation, Hamas appears to have changed the subject and removed Gilad Schalit from the equation. For now.
Again, enough. Far beyond enough.