The Release of Gilad Shalit is The End of the 'Peace Process'
To redeem captives is a Jewish imperative, so the Israeli government's decision to pay Hamas ransom for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit is not a surprise. Although the terms haven't materially changed in a year, the timing is not a surprise either.
Shalit was captured in 2006 by Hamas while the Palestinian Authority (PA) was in control of Gaza. Following a brief, dirty civil war in 2007 Fatah was ousted, effectively splitting Palestinian leadership along geographic lines; both sides claim leadership of the whole. The US and the Quartet have courted Fatah and Abu Mazen, whose sole elected term ended in 2009. Turkey, Syria and Iran courted Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Mahmound Abbas received tens of millions of dollars, American training for the Fatah police force/nascent army, and Israeli economic cooperation and protection for the PA and its officials. Hamas, while embargoed by Mubarak's Egypt as well as Israel, received training, money and weapons from Iran, and political support from Turkey.
In 2011, Mahmound Abbas raised his stature among Palestinians by demanding UN recognition for Palestine, while Hamas suffered from a bad economy and declining support from Syria and Iran. The Egyptian revolution didn't help Hamas -- the Muslim Brotherhood emerged as a strong force, but security control is still vested in the Egyptian military, Hamas's enemy. On the other hand, Mahmound Abbas got nothing concrete in the UN while alienating the United States, Israel and the Quartet. So by trumpeting the return of 1,000 "fighters," Hamas can claim a twofold victory -- over Fatah's ineffectual performance in the international arena and over Israel. As a practical matter, since at least some of those released are going to the West Bank, Hamas can also more effectively threaten Fatah in its remaining territory.
Why would Israel agree to strengthen Hamas at the expense of Fatah? To punish Mahmoud Abbas.
The Israeli government is acknowledging widespread public disillusionment with the "peace process" and signaling its end. At the same time, it is removing Hamas's hostage -- just in case hostilities become inevitable as Hamas smuggles increasingly sophisticated weaponry into Gaza from the increasingly lawless Sinai. And just in case the Muslim Brotherhood wins the Egyptian election, giving Hamas a new ally.
Mahmound Abbas broke the last remaining promise of Oslo -- that agreement would be derived through negotiation, not unilateral action. The Obama administration begged and pleaded with him not to do it. But while the US was whining and trying to round up nine votes in the Security Council to avoid a US veto, Mahmound Abbas was requesting membership in UNESCO. Congenitally hostile to Israel, UNESCO's executive committee voted 40-4 to approve "Palestine" as a member, and a vote of the full UNESCO membership is scheduled for late October.
That was it for Israel.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said the UNESCO move, "negated both the bilateral negotiations route and the Quartet's proposal for continuing the diplomatic process. Their actions are a negative response to Israel's and the international community's efforts to promote the peace process."
Polls show that the Israeli public, while reconciled to a Palestinian State in theory, believe that Israel's basic requirements will remain unfulfilled:
- Recognition of the Third Jewish Commonwealth -- the State of Israel -- as a permanent and legitimate part of the region and the community of nations;
- "Secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force" -- the promise of UN Resolution 242; and
- The capital of Israel within a united Jerusalem.
From that recognition comes the decision to ransom Shalit now, while the deal can be struck. Expect the Israelis to hunker down and prepare to defend what they believe they have to defend leaving no hostage in the hands of Hamas. The era of Israel's willingness to make concessions for the sake of the "peace process" is over.
Shoshana Bryen has more than 30 years experience as a defense policy analyst and has been taking American military officers and defense professionals to Israel since 1982.