Hamas has demanded the release of 1,000 Palestinian terrorists sorry, political prisoners (450 of whom were specifically named) in exchange for their release of Corporal Gilad Shalit. Now from Haaretz (via Israel Matzav), we learn that the Obama administration has just made this situation literally twice as bad:
A senior official in the U.S. administration told Haaretz that if the deal for Shalit’s release is completed, the U.S. would be interested in seeing Israel releasing Fatah prisoners as well, in addition to other gestures to bolster Fatah’s status compared to Hamas. “We are telling the Israelis that [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas’ situation needs to be mitigated,” the U.S. official said.
Emphasis is my own. This really is mind-blowing. No concern for Corporal Shalit, no concern for the delicate situation in which the Israeli government already finds itself in light of Hamas’ demands — only concern for Mahmoud Abbas and his political legitimacy. The rationale is that if Israel accedes to Hamas’ prisoner exchange demands, Hamas will appear more effective and thus a more legitimate representative of the Palestinian people than Abbas and his Fatah party. Thus, the administration says, Israel should release an equal number of Fatah prisoners to mitigate the blow to Abbas’ image.
Oh, where to begin? For starters, it’s not the Israeli government’s responsibility to protect Abbas’ legitimacy. Either the Palestinians want independence or they don’t. The Palestinian president has to secure his own political legitimacy, and if he can’t then he and Palestinian society will have to deal with the consequences. That’s what being an independent state is all about.
But for the sake of argument, let’s accept for a moment the Obama administration’s fundamental assertion here — that Israel should work to mitigate the damage to Abbas’ image. Even if we accept this argument, it does not follow that releasing an equal number of Fatah prisoners will bolster Abbas’ legitimacy. The Palestinian people will still know that both the Hamas and Fatah prisoners have been released because of Hamas efforts and they will give Hamas the credit. When it comes right down to it, this would still be a Hamas victory and there is no way to mitigate the blow to Abbas’ image.
As much as I feel for Corporal Shalit and his family, I don’t think the Israeli government should meet Hamas’ prisoner exchange demands. We all feel for this one man and his family. How will we feel for the countless other people and their families, military and possibly civilian, when Hamas sees that this tactic is effective in forcing Israel to release terrorists from its prisons? Exchanging so many prisoners for one man sets a dangerous precedent that could impact countless Israelis, and Israel must not do it.