As the current impasse in Gaza moves into its third week, Israeli politicians have begun debating the thing most of them swear they won't do: make a deal with Hamas terrorists to save the life of a kidnapped Israeli soldier.
The dilemma facing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is an unenviable one. Either he must literally stick to his guns and refuse to reward the terrorists for rocket attacks and the brazen cross-border raid in which Cpl. Gilad Shalit was captured and two of his comrades were murdered, or he must relent and release Palestinian prisoners in order to gain the young soldier's release.
To date, Olmert has insisted that he will stand on principle and never pay a ransom in the coin of convicted Arab terrorists. These statements are justified not only by logic, but by Israel's sorry past experience with such exchanges. Buying Shalit's freedom by allowing those who have taken part in terrorism to go free would be a travesty of justice. It would also encourage the Palestinians to continue practicing terrorism, and thus, in the long run, endanger far more lives that it saves.
If Olmert sticks to that position, he deserves the support of the entire civilized world, which has a common stake in showing Islamist killers, like those of Hamas, that they cannot triumph.
But it's just as likely as not that the Israeli government will eventually backtrack on this commitment.
Why? As time passes, public pressure from the Shalit family to do anything to save their son will grow. And who can blame them? What parents would not move heaven and earth to save their child in a similar predicament? And in a small country like Israel, where so many other sons and daughters are similarly at risk, the idea of abandoning Shalit to his fate is simply unimaginable.
Israel's enemies consider this a weakness and, in a sense, it is. Like those of other soft-hearted democracies, Israel's leaders — even those with reputations much tougher than Olmert's — have been unable to write off captives like Shalit in favor of advancing their country's interests. For Israelis, the imperative to redeem a captive is not just a precept of religious law, but a societal imperative.
Many will lament any possible deal that further empowers Hamas. But it should be noted that Israel's willingness to go to any length to save a Jewish life is the complete opposite of the Palestinian appetite for sacrificing the lives of their children. Such a contrast in values may make for difficulties for Israel's leaders, but it's also something that Jews everywhere should take pride in.
Aliyah Stall Won't Wash!
Lost amid the focus on the conflict with the Palestinians this month has been a decision of the Israeli government to renege on its promise to speed up the process by which Falash Mura Jews are accepted for aliyah from Ethiopia.
These descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity have been stalled by a government process that reduces the flow to a trickle. At the urging of Diaspora Jews, who promised to raise money to fund their absorption, Israel agreed last year to double the number of Falash Mura allowed in. But, citing budgetary concerns, the Olmert administration has now backtracked on former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's promise. This is a mistake on two counts.
First, it's morally wrong to keep these people hanging in this manner. Second, by failing to quickly transport those already in line to come, Israel is setting itself up for more trouble. As long as some are kept on hold, others, perhaps less deserving of recognition, will continue to arrive at emigration camps in Ethiopia.
Israel needs to quit stalling on the Falash Mura. If there's a will to resolve this problem, then there is a way, and money can be found to pay for it.