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As Guns Go Silent, Don't Forget Gilad
As is the case with just about every policy dilemma facing the State of Israel, the best that can be said for the decision to accept a truce with Hamas is that it is the least-bad option currently available to a beleaguered government.
The cease-fire along the border with Gaza will never be confused for anything that resembles real peace.
The Hamas terrorists have good reason to rejoice. They are marking the first anniversary of their coup d'etat that won them control of Gaza with an Egyptian-brokered agreement that grants them an unprecedented degree of recognition. No one, including the most-fervent advocates of the cease-fire, believes that they will use this period for peaceful purposes. Instead, this respite will enable them to refit and resupply their terrorist forces in a way that will make any subsequent Israeli counter-attack into the region an even bigger nightmare than before.
The truce also strengthens Hamas at the expense of the supposedly more-moderate Palestinian Authority, which makes any progress toward a genuine peace agreement even more far-fetched.
But however grievous the downside to this move may be, it will, at the very least, grant a much-needed reprieve to the people of the Israeli town of Sederot, and the surrounding villages and kibbutzim that have been pounded unmercifully by Kassam rockets launched by the Palestinians from their safe haven in Gaza.
For too long, Sederot was allowed to suffer in relative silence and isolation. The pain of its people who lived under constant threat of death from terrorist rockets went unheeded for years. While there is no way of knowing how long the truce will last, it will provide a measure of relief to that afflicted town.
Still to be determined is whether or not Hamas will surrender Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier whom they kidnapped two years ago in a cross-border raid. The fact that Shalit was not part of the initial cease-fire has generated much criticism for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. But there is little doubt that Israel is still attempting to negotiate Shalit's release, and as long as it can keep crucial border crossings into Gaza closed, it is not without leverage.
As is the case with similar Israeli negotiations with the Hezbollah terrorists over the return of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who were also kidnapped in 2006, Olmert's dilemma is an unenviable one. If he releases Palestinian terrorists responsible for mass murders in exchange for Israeli captives, he will be criticized for unleashing more terror in the future. If he refuses to make such a swap, he will be accused of abandoning Israel's children to death at the hands of monsters.
But whatever Olmert decides, it is important for Israel's overseas friends to keep in mind a few salient points.
Until they are released or at least their fate is known, Shalit, Goldwasser and Regev must never be forgotten. Any further concessions to Israel's antagonists ought to be conditioned on their safe release.
Even more to the point, the cease-fire should not be treated as an excuse for legitimizing Hamas' misrule over Gaza or its status as a terrorist organization. While Israel may have come to the conclusion that a truce is the only way to stop the rockets hitting Sederot, that does not mean that the United States should treat Hamas as a sovereign state worthy of respect or even aid.
We must not succumb to the delusion that pressure on Israel to make more concessions will somehow transform Hamas. The pressure must remain on them to cease their terrorist tactics and to once and for all recognize that they must learn to live in peace with Israel.