March 19, 2009

Israel getting tough with Hamas - how unfair!!

Gilad ShalitCaptured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit

Following the collapse of Egyptian-mediated negotiations between Israel and Hamas over the release of a captured Israeli soldier, Israeli troops detained 10 Hamas politicians on the West Bank.

Gilad Shalit was captured by Gaza-based Hamas fighters in a cross border raid in 2006. He has been in Hamas custody since that time, despite repeated attempts by the Israeli government to secure his release.

As usual, Hamas's demands for an exchange of prisoners have been over the top. The latest demands include amnesty and release of dozens of senior Palestinians militants, all with Israeli blood on their hands.

After the politicians were detained by the Israelis, Hamas complained that the arrests were a reaction to the failed talks in Cairo. This comes as a surprise?

Of course the arrests are an attempt to put pressure on Hamas to exercise some lucidity in the negotiations. Israeli officials have also hinted that the 11,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons might face tougher conditions unless there is progress on the Shalit negotiations. Initially, it is thought that the prisoners will be denied visits by their families. Perhaps when Shalit's family is permitted to visit him, then the Palestinian families can visit their incarcerated relatives.

Additionally, Israel is likely to tighten the already economically crippling blockade of the Gaza Strip. Virtually all non-humanitarian goods and services must be smuggled into the Palestinian enclave via the 20-mile stretch of its border with Egypt, mostly via a series of tunnels that are often bombed by Israeli fighter aircraft. Israel could easily slow down humanitarian aid to the bare minimums.

While many believe these attempts to intimidate the Palestinians merely strengthen their resolve, at some point, hardship demands a change in policy. Is holding one Israeli soldier worth the collapse of the economy?

The Hamas spokesman's words are classic and reveal a lot. "Israel's arrests of Hamas leaders and lawmakers in the West Bank is an attempt to blackmail the resistance and achieve gains in the prisoner case. It shows the bankruptcy of the enemy. We call on the resistance factions to stick to their conditions in any prisoner exchange that will be discussed."

Words like "resistance" and "enemy" underscore its stance on the Jewish state. Its charter, and recent rhetoric, calls for the elimination of Israel. The recent Gaza conflict in December and January between Israeli troops and Hamas did nothing to change the status quo - it merely removed about 1000 Hamas members from the scene.

What options do the Israelis have? They believe they have no other recourse but to continue the pressure on the Gaza Strip - and thus on Hamas - until either the population rises up against the group or another war ensues.

Continued intransigence by Hamas merely guarantees the formation of a hard-line Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu. Hamas will not like Netanyahu's solutions to the Hamas issue....