Israel maintains an intense — at times too intense — focus on recovering its captured soldiers. So it’s not surprise that the fate of Corporal Gilad Shalit, kidnapped by Hamas more than a year ago, has captivated Israel’s attention. Every time it seems as if a deal has been struck, someone pulls back. Hamas wants dozens (if not hundreds) of prisoners in Israeli jails, some of whom, it must be emphasized, are elected Hamas members of the Palestinian legislature and pose no security risk. But Hamas also wants many of its most hardened fighters/terrorists.
What to do?
Here’s an idea: Israel should offer publicly a one-for-one deal — Shalit in exchange for Marwan Barghouti.
Barghouti is an interesting case. There’s little doubt that he supported and was behind many of the worst terrorist attacks during the 2001-2002 period. There’s also little doubt that he has genuine support on the Palestinian street, and has in the past engaged in serious, constructive negotiations with Israeli leaders.
Now, one might well ask: why in the world would Hamas agree to such a proposal? Barghouti used to be a Fatah member, although he has now formed his own political party. He’s a secular militant and has no truck with Islamism.
In my view, however, this is a feature, not a bug. Think about it from Hamas’ perspective.
If they say yes, then they have arranged for the release of a potentially formidable political opponent, who — unlike PA Presient Mahmoud Abbas — has maintained a large amount of personal popularity.
If they say no, then they reveal that they are really not interested in Barghouti’s release, and will willingly keep him in jail because they prefer their own supporters, making them seem like traitors to the Palestinian cause (which they are, but that’s another story.).
Make it public. Make it loud. Ask Hamas: which side are you on?