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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

You can't buy what isn't for sale

The latest news that the Israeli negotiating team has returned from Cairo without closing a deal for the release of Gilad Shallit is heartbreaking in the extreme... but not particularly surprising.

From the very beginning of this long national ordeal I have maintained that I honestly don't believe this kidnapped soldier (or any other kidnapped soldier) will be returned alive.  Yes, I know there have been tiny 'signs of life' that have been offered through 'interested' third parties... but such signs have been far from iron-clad in either provenance or substance.

But I don't want to appear heartless, so let's assume for the sake of this discussion that Gilad Shallit is still alive.  That doesn't mean that he will be returned in that state.  He is a far more effective weapon as a real or imagined corpse than as a live bargaining commodity... at least within the scope of the bargains Israel is prepared to strike.

That wouldn't have been the case if, say, Israel had hermetically sealed Gaza from the moment of the kidnapping and literally starved the people of the Gaza strip until our soldier was returned.  No humanitarian aid... no medicine... no electricity... no water.  Nothing.  Or if not a complete embargo, at least give my patented diplomatic plan for gaining the attention of Palestinian leaders a try.  It would have taken less than two weeks for Hamas to fold under such measures.

Of course that would be considered collective punishment; a war crime... but so what.  Isn't the open warfare Hamas has been waging against Israel civilians also collective punishment for the so-called 'occupation'?  And aren't the kidnapping of soldiers and refusing to allow Red Cross access and other basic rights accorded to Prisoners of War, flagrant war crimes? 

I'm just saying... if a civilized country gets drawn into a street fight with an entity that refuses to conform to any conventions of civility, I say 'live by the sword, die by the sword'.

But we didn't have the resolve to do that.  Instead we continued to behave as though this were the first time this sort of thing has ever happened to us.  Seriously, it isn't as though we have no experience in such scenarios.  The horrible coda to the second Lebanon war saw Israel releasing hundreds of well fed terrorists who had been accorded regular Red Cross visits, full medical treatment and clean living conditions that would make Israel's poorer sectors wonder what they had done wrong to have to shiver through the winters in unheated hovels while their tax shekels paid to allow terrorists to sleep in warm comfortable beds. 

In return for the release of these battle-ready terrorists, we received coffins containing the decomposed remains of our kidnapped soldiers that - right up until the moment the coffins came into view - we foolishly allowed ourselves to believe might still be alive.  I say 'foolishly' because common sense would seem to dictate that one should assume the worst of a bargain when the guy on the other side of the counter refuses to show you what it is he is selling. 

It was the worst kind of 'bait & switch' imaginable; a humiliating gut punch in front of the whole world when those black coffins were dropped at our doorstep on live television.  But we got what we deserved, because when you get right down to it, we were like tourists walking into the Arab shuk with money sticking out of every pocket, and no idea of how to negotiate.

Sadly, falling victim to this sort of gut-wrenching swindle is far from an isolated event in Israel's many forays into the Arab marketplace:  Debacles like Oslo come to mind.  At such public drubbings, peace came to be treated as a commodity that could be purchased by anyone (meaning us) willing to pay a high enough price.  And what we might now call swindles or even muggings are rightfully seen by the other side as 'windfalls'.  Who could reasonably be expected to refuse to allow a fool to parted from his money.  The proof of this is the gleeful anticipation with which Syria's Assad has announced to anyone who will listen his readiness to sit down and 'talk with Israel'.

Yet again and again we have been shown the difficult truth that many still refuse to internalize; that peace (or whatever is being offered by our enemies), is just a marketing slogan - a hook with which to draw us into the shop - and isn't necessarily for sale.  Once we are alone in the shop with all our money on the counter - or worse, in the vendor's pocket - the real negotiations begin... but somehow never seem to end. 

And each and every time we find ourselves standing helpless amongst the oily rug salesmen, we begin pulling ever larger handfuls of cash from our pockets in hopes of finally closing a deal for that elusive commodity; peace, kidnapped soldiers, security, recognition, a temporary cessation of rocket fire... whatever. 

Yet each time we think we've finally closed the deal, the vendors walk away with our money and assure us that they will consider our offer carefully... while even the rug on which we stand is unceremoniously pulled from beneath our feet.

I'm also the father of a boy named Gilad... and in my heart of hearts I also foolishly cling to the hope that the Shallit family will one day have their son back, alive and well.  But let's be honest with ourselves for a moment... the chances are heavily against that happening. [I pray I'm proved wrong] 

The problem is, we ruined the market for live Israelis when demonstrated our willingness- eagerness, even - to pay top price for dead Israelis.  Worse, our free press and idiotically undisciplined and loose-lipped leaders have broadcasted our pain so clearly to the terrorists holding GIlad Shallit that they know beyond any doubt that their interests are far better served by continuing to twist the knife of uncertainty in our national heart than by making a deal that would - at best - repatriate a few hundred terrorists that were sent out to die in the first place.

After so many humiliating visits to the Arab marketplace one would hope we might finally have learned enough to hold our own... or at least have gained the wisdom not to go back.  But the daggers in our national heart called Zecharya Baumel, Zvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz, Guy Hever, Majdy Halabi and Ran Arad have grown dull with age and their jeweled hilts no longer draw suckers to the shuk they way they once did. 

So a new, shinier bauble has been placed before us in order to coax the rest of the money from our bulging pockets... even as we walk willingly into the blade.  But what we fail again and again to grasp is that armed robbery and legitimate commerce are only distinguishable from one another by observing what each side leaves with at the end of the transaction.

So while I'm heartbroken that this latest glimmer of hope turned out to be a desert mirage, I'm not surprised that the rug vendors have once again walked away with a king's ransom - our pain - in their pockets... while promising to carefully study our offer.  And we don't even have the wit to realize that the surest sign that the latest 'transaction' has been concluded is that we've once again been left sprawled in the empty marketplace with our pockets empty and a knife in our heart.

[Disclaimer:  The concept of the 'peace process' as a fruitless foray by neophytes into the Arab Bazaar is not my own.  It was expressed far more eloquently here by Steve Kramer]

Posted by David Bogner on March 17, 2009 | Permalink

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Beautiful. And very, very sad.

Posted by: gila | Mar 17, 2009 1:19:48 PM

from the 132 Palestians post on Treppenwitz, back in 2006:

And talking about a massive ground offensive to reoccupy the northern Gaza is just silly. It would be roughly analogous to a massive police task force being sent into a bad neighborhood to arrest all the drug dealers and junkies. It wouldn't touch the big fish who control the supply of both drugs and money... and within days a new crop of dealers and junkies would be back on the street conducting business as usual.

Posted by: fred | Mar 17, 2009 2:30:35 PM

gila... thank you. I like both adjectives you used ('beautiful' and 'sad'). But I'm curious... do you feel the post also merits a 'true'?

fred... OK, you have quoted my previous post. Do you disagree with what I wrote? That section you have quoted certainly isn't in conflict with anything I wrote this morning, is it?

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 17, 2009 3:18:46 PM

Excellent post.The fact that no contact is allowed with the prisoner is a deal breaker from the start.I also don`t understand the reverse psychology. Isn`the individual(soldier)supposed to sacrifice for the many(civilians)?I hope Gilad is returned alive,and also that this is the last such trade Israel will ever make.

Posted by: ED | Mar 17, 2009 4:27:49 PM

i dont disagree. i just found prescient, and apropos to quote here. what you said came to be, more or less. pity.

Posted by: fred | Mar 17, 2009 9:43:34 PM

Sadly, I agree with your plan. Not because it will necessarily be effective - which I believe it would. But because it is, in my weak minded opinion, inevitable. It is the nature of this struggle and the stakes involved in both winning, and losing that make concluding the struggle so terrible to imagine. The entire world (with the possible exception of the Palestinians and Muslims in general), want to see this struggle in a secular framework with solutions that would be viable under such a framework. For them (the secularists) to consider it in any other other light would be beyond inconceivable. But the struggle cannot be separated from the religiosity, nor especially, the spirituality at its core. There will be no tie in this struggle. To satisfy the secular world, there are two possible satisfactory outcomes - continuous struggle or a winner that will not threaten secular belief. But continuous struggle while possibly not unattractive when considered objectively, is really not possible. There are just too many people - powerful people - who want a definitive result. If one side wins - there are two winners. If the other side wins, then there are two losers. Ultimately, whoever loses, for either the religious or for the secular, land, and even life, will be the least of what they will have lost.

Posted by: Kae Gregory | Mar 18, 2009 6:11:55 AM

So, true, so sad, and it boils down to one thing...
very Ehud Olmert.

Posted by: Batya | Mar 18, 2009 6:30:46 AM

Is it true? I do not know if I agree with you 100% in respect to the peace process. I do know that I do not WANT to agree with you--but that is another matter. But, I do agree that allowing terrorist groups to turn corpses into currency was an astoundingly bad idea. And I am not a particular fan of the current proposed deal. So long as the other side knows that they can get whatever they ask for in exchange for a corpse...what reason do they have to stop the kidnapping?

Posted by: Gila | Mar 18, 2009 8:55:14 AM

I think that as long as we are willing to accept corpses without punitive measures against those returning them, then returning corpses will remain a good business for them.

I would counter their offers with a simple one. Take their list and execute one prisoner every hour until Gilad is returned. If he is returned in good health, the rest will remain alive in prison -possibly a few released as a show of whatever the world wants to see. If not, they'll all be executed.

Posted by: triLcat | Mar 18, 2009 9:35:22 AM

Unfortunately that's how the system works - after the Arab Governments failed, continuously to get rid of Israel - they resulted to more unorthodox means of dealing with the 'Zionist Entity'. I believe the same approach used to secure Israel against suicide bombings should be used to deal with the Kassam's, and where diplomacy fails, alittle common-sense and realism should be used.

..Just a thought.

Posted by: Rami | Mar 18, 2009 11:05:46 AM

www.aish.com has a campaign to sign a petition to call on the United States government to make its $300 million humanitarian aid pledge to the people of Gaza, conditional upon the Hamas leadership releasing Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. You sign your name (online) and provide an email address which is kept private.

I didn't understand why the Israelis didn't have good enough bargaining power during operation cast lead. The whole thing makes no sense to me.

Posted by: Mata Hari | Mar 18, 2009 1:55:11 PM

ED... I'll leave the psychology to the professionals, but I agree. No contact means there is nothing to talk about.

fred... Prescient? Hah. More like a lucky guess. :-)

Kae Gregory ... In short, too many cooks in the kitchen... and only a few of the interested people are hungry enough to eat.

Batya ... Look, there is plenty of blame to spread around here. Olmert wasn't the first to depart from the old policy of no negotiations with terrorists.

Gila ... "Is it true? I do not know if I agree with you 100% in respect to the peace process. I do know that I do not WANT to agree with you--but that is another matter." What a troubling thing to say. Unless I am completely missing your point (always a possibility with this short-hand medium), your response indicates that you think I am not interested in peace... or that I want peace less than you. If that is what you meant, the real difference between us is that I don't have a default position, or a position to defend, on most issues related to the 'peace process'. I examine the facts and the history, and analyze the available information about the decision makers, and form an opinion. I also change my opinion frequently as the facts and relative strength of the decision makers (i.e. the ability to make good on decisions once made) change. It would never occur to me to say 'I don't want to agree with someone'. I either agree or disagree. Trust me, if Zehava Gal On or Yossi Beilin were to call a press conference tomorrow and espouse a peace plan that was workable (and which had a high probability of success) within the political, demographic and security reality of the region, I would be DELIGHTED to agree with either of them. This mistaken idea that the Israeli right does not want peace as much as the left is the root of so much of the suspicion and hate here in Israel, and it pains me to see that someone as bright as you subscribes to it.

triLcat... Even a better idea than mine. Most of the terrorists on the list deserve the death penalty anyway, as far as I'm concerned. Heck, if this was Texas they'd already have been tried and fried long ago.

Rami... I wasn't aware that we had a solution for suicide bombers.

Mata Hari ... That is only common sense. But nobody involved in any of this seems interested in such things.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 18, 2009 3:57:12 PM

The Israeli media turned this whole affair into a real circus - and reinforced the impression that the Israeli people are desperate to make a deal. If you ask the "average Israeli" if we should release terrorists in return for Gilad, many would say no. But they are afraid to voice that opinion in public because it seems so heartless.

I say that the Israeli government shouldn't even talk about him until the Red Cross is allowed to verify that he is alive.

Posted by: westbankmama | Mar 18, 2009 5:00:54 PM

Trading Israelis for terrorists is an interesting debate -- I agree with your assessment: "The problem is, we ruined the market for live Israelis when demonstrated our willingness- eagerness, even - to pay top price for dead Israelis."

Perhaps the negotiated quota should be for "bodies" instead of lives. If you want 100 terrorists released from our control for 1 Israeli soldier, then that's fine. But they will be returned in the same condition as our citizen is returned to us. If our soldier is dead, we'll send you 100 dead terrorists from our prisons...

Posted by: ProphetJoe | Mar 18, 2009 7:54:44 PM

I should clarify one point: I meant no deception on my part when I referred to "we" and "our" in the previous post -- I am not Israeli, just pro-Israeli.

With modern technology (much of it developed in Israel!) couldn't you tag these terrorists when they are released? We've all seen the rice-sized RFID chips. Couldn't you modify one to not only give off a ID code (using a drone with GPS coordinates), but also include a small (but lethal) explosive charge?

When the terrorists are repatriated into Gaza (for example) you could use a drone to monitor their whereabouts and IF they start firing rockets and mortars into Israel -- well, just dial up their RFID and send a self-destruct sequence... much cheaper than a missile. It might also lend itself to plausible deniability -- "I knew Mohammed el Terrorist shouldn't have used a cell phone. Those things can kill you!!"

Joe

Posted by: ProphetJoe | Mar 18, 2009 8:08:14 PM

When Goldwasser and Regev were returned, I wrote to the Jerusalem Post that the crime here is that the child murderer wasn't returned to Lebanon in the same condition they were returned in - in a box.(They printed my letter) I totally agree with you and trilcat. Israel needs the death penalty for terrorists. Will this put our boys at risk? Possibly. But it will also eliminate any possibility that any of these animals will have a 2nd chance at killing Jews. When Gilad was taken, Gaza should have been sealed shut, the world be damned. We're not going to be loved no matter what we do. The world only loves dead Jews.

Posted by: Marsha in Englewood | Mar 22, 2009 2:56:03 AM

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