Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Shalit Circus

From the desk of Reuven Kaminer November 25, 2009
Bibi’s Bathosphere
The media circus around the negotiations between Hamas and Israel on the prisoner swap to free the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, grinds on and on, defying any vestige of proportionality. The media fuels artificial tension by trying to keep us guessing as to whether a deal is on or off. However, it should be understood that there are important ramifications of these lengthy negotiations independent of their final outcome.
You may have noticed that the Shalit show has just now returned to center stage, for the n’th time. Once again, there is tremendous discrepancy between endless volumes of coverage and the very sparse evidence of any factual developments. More and more irrelevant “activity” is reported even though it has nothing to do with facts on the ground. There appears to be some formula at work that makes this story serve the interests of both these bitter enemies. Meanwhile there is lots of noise and very little movement.
Some of the “noise” is almost hilarious. Israeli spokespersons, from the top down, grant lengthy interviews explaining why they cannot address the matter. It’s ”so sensitive” and any superfluous statement can cause irrevocable harm at this point of the negotiations.
Looking Good
But the main achievement of the Israeli role in this tawdry affair is to make Israel look good. We are to believe that those who train Israeli youth to kill and to die willingly to achieve Israel’s current strategic objective really care about each and every one of its soldiers. But it is common knowledge that the Israeli military, asides from the nefarious policies that it devotedly serves, has more than its share of serious fuck-ups which cost the lives of many a young person. There may be a middle class element here in that the more affluent and educated parents seem to want all the relevant details of the military action that cost them their child. As often as not, they know someone who knows someone.
Mentally they understand that war means death, but they would like to believe that in contradistinction to all relevant indications, the military and those that give the orders really care about the lives of their children. It often happens that bereaved parents go beyond regular channels in the search of details. The same channels are brought to bear when an Israeli soldiers falls into captivity. So if there is an opportunity – really a golden one - to demonstrate that the government and the army company really care about the fate of each and every soldier, then it is wise to exploit it fully. The regime scores points by being attentive to the parental pleas to ransom up the youngster. The story can even make Netanyahu look good.
The Israeli establishment loves to pose. One favorite pose is being in a dilemma between the head and the heart. The head rejects the very idea of freeing “hundreds of vicious murderous barbarians” but “how can we face the anxious parents without doing everything to bring their son back to them?” Can there be any better light in which to present our leadership than it being afflicted with a serious moral dilemma.
There once was a time when it was great fun to mock the left when it said that the main function of much ongoing public discourse and media coverage was to divert attention from more important matters. However, it seems that Bibi and Co. appreciate the diversionary value of the Shalit affair. Casting Netanyahu as the guardian of warrior solidarity does help to remove the glaring focus on the fact that the government is squandering what might have been the last chance of peace.
Talking about diversions, there is a list of burning issues before Israel that are really more decisive than endless negotiations on the Shalit issue. The peace process has been snuffed out by Israeli obstinacy and Washington’s clumsiness. Abu Mazen, Israel’s only potential “partner,” is barely hanging on to a shred of legitimacy. The settlers and their allies who seem to be multiplying in the IDF ranks and its young officer corps are fast achieving veto power over any “unfriendly” use of the IDF against the settlements.
Moreover, the talk about a possible swap and the price involved obscures the reality of some 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons. The Israeli attempt to criminalize these people, or to incite against them because they have “blood on their hands”, is really an attempt to hide the fact that these men and women answered the call of legitimate Palestinian leadership to fight for the rights of their people. Again and again the Israeli public must supposedly weigh the pros and the cons of releasing literally hundreds of “dangerous, blood thirsty, terrorist murderers to get Gilad back home. You get the point. We are so devoted to our soldiers that we are even considering this kind of dangerous concession to the terrorists.
Admittedly, there is intrinsic drama in the Shalit case, but there is also intrinsic drama in the case of every one of the 10,000 Palestinians and their families. It is fine to recognize the pain and suffering of Shalit’s parents. Remember though, that Shalit, the prisoner, has a face, while ten thousand Palestinian women and men prisoners remain faceless.
I, for one, do not believe that there is a real chance of a done deal with Hamas. We are still, despite the media blitz, far from an agreement. Bibi will still have many opportunities to scuttle the deal and he may even chose to stage a “retreat under popular pressure,” especially after the media starts detailing the “crimes” of the candidates for release.
Talking with Hamas
The Shalit negotiations are a serious boost for Hamas’s Arab and international standing. Islamic radicals, we learn, are just as amenable to diplomacy and hard bargaining as anyone else. The walls of isolation around Hamas are crumbling, as even Israel by virtue of these negotiations, extends de facto recognition. If Israel enjoys its role losing sleep over a single captured soldier, Hamas enjoys showing the only practical way to deal with Israel is by having something that Israel wants very much.
And if Hamas bends at any stage and approves a proposed deal, there is a thick Israeli Shin Bet file which contains any number and variety of documented proofs that it precisely Hamas which scuttled the deal to release Gilad Shalit.” Any fabricated accusation that Hamas is to blame that the deal fell through will be good enough for the Israeli public. And a failed deal should not disturb the flow of oil out of the region.