Since Gilad Shalit was kidnapped and Israel invaded Gaza, the news has been almost universally bad. Until now. But there is a single very modest piece of good news today. After the Palestinian kidnappers demanded the release of 1,000 prisoners from Israeli jails, the IDF has come back with a counter-offer. I’m not sure it offers much, if anything, to the Palestinians that they’d be interested in. But at least the two sides are making proposals. And this marks the welcome end of Israel’s rather inane claim that it will never resort to bargaining with terrorists for Shalit’s life. Every Israeli knows that Israel has done this before and that if this case is to end relatively peacefully it will have to do so now. So in some ways this is a modest positive development.
Here’s how Haaretz characterizes the IDF proposal:
The IDF said it would not support a deal that would release terrorists “with blood on their hands,” but only those who have not been involved in planning or carrying out terror attacks. The army would be willing to release individuals who are being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, such as Hamas ministers and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, as well as security prisoners jailed for relatively minor offenses, such as belonging to terrorist organizations…
The draft deal calls for a total halt to the firing of steep-trajectory weapons, whether by Hamas or other organizations; a halt to attacks on Israeli citizens and IDF troops, wherever they are located; and a ban on abductions. There were four abductions and attempted abductions over the last month, three of them in the West Bank.
In exchange for a Palestinian commitment to stop these activities, the deal calls for the IDF to stop operating in Gaza, while reserving the right of defense and the right to foil terror attacks. The IDF also wants a “sleep balance” between Sderot and Gaza: If the children of Sderot can’t sleep due to fear of Qassam rockets, Israel will disrupt the sleep of Gaza children.
What is particularly humorous in a deep black sort of way is IDF’s offer to release its own Hamas parliamentary hostages in return for Shalit. You’ll recall that this is the same army and Israeli government which swore up and down that the legislators it had arrested (‘kidnapped’ if you prefer) were NOT meant as bargaining chips. Certainly they weren’t. Did we ever believe differently??
What I’d like to know is how many Palestinian prisoners who were not arrested in the past three days would qualify under the “guilty for minor offenses” rubric. If the number is relatively small, then the IDF offer seems a non-starter. You’ll also notice that this proposal attempts to gain for Israel everything it could not gain through previous military action while giving up almost nothing for its part. They couldn’t silence Qassams. This plan, if accepted by the kidnappers, would. They can’t prevent kidnappings. This plan would. They can’t stop “attacks on Israeli citizens and IDF troops.” This plan would.
And what would Israel grant to the Palestinians through this agreement? It will stop operating in Gaza. This could be significant depending on what’s mean by “stop operating.” If it means an end to targeted assassinations that might be something worthwhile. But those phrases “reserving the right of defense and the right to foil terror attacks” seem like holes that might be big enough to drive a Mack truck through.
The kidnappers are attempting to up the ante by demanding that Israel begin releasing prisoners by 6AM this morning or else Shalit will become “a closed case.” Seems like standard form in political kidnapping to pressure your enemy with deadlines and ultimatums. But I just don’t see how either side at present has many bargaining chips. Should the kidnappers harm Shalit there will be holy hell to pay for them and all Palestinians. Should the IDF attempt a rescue mission it could easily turn into another Carter-style Iranian hostage rescue mission disaster given how impossibly difficult it might be to infiltrate a teeming slum like Khan Yunis to free Shalit. Bargaining is what each side in this conflict seems to do worst. But it seems, for the time being the only strategy they have.