Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Is Netanyahu a Sleeper Agent for Hamas?

Of course not. Don't be ridiculous.


As you may have heard, Israel has agreed to release over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a captured soldier. Since Shalit was captured by Hamas for this specific purpose, it will be hard for Palestinians to see the exchange as anything other than a complete victory for Hamas. Here are some of the conclusions that will be drawn:

  • Hamas, unlike Fatah, actually accomplishes things.
  • The only way to get what you want from Israel is through violence.
  • If we keep the pressure on the Jews long enough, they'll give up.

None of those conclusions is going to make Palestinians likely to accept the need for peace with Israel. As for Mahmoud Abbas, he might as well resign. My real paranoia is not that Netanyahu is an agent for Hamas, but that he sees their interests as running in parallel. No peace with the Palestinians means no giving up the West Bank. Not only does Netanyahu probably see that as a good thing in itself, but it makes it possible to hold hold together his coalition and remain Prime Minister.

Even this level of paranoia is probably excessive. The most likely explanation for Netanyahu's actions is that he is just being what he has always been: a self-interested, opportunistic politician of near-Arafatian proportions. For the fact is that, inexplicably, the Israeli public favored this deal. Granted, the idea of someone being held hostage indefinitely often does capture the public's imagination--look at the American public's obsession with the Iranian hostages.

But it's very hard to imagine the American public enthusiastically supporting a deal to exchange the embassy hostages for hundreds of Iranians convicted of murdering innocent people. Remember that Palestinian guy who posed for photographers smiling with bloody hands after taking part in the lynching of two Israeli reservists? He's free now.

We are told that Netanyahu felt that a deal had to be reached quickly, because things are changing so fast in Egypt that he couldn't be sure of Egyptian support in the future. Really? You needed Egypt's support to drive this hard bargain?

The exchange also casts a new light on the whole debacle of the Turkish flotilla and the blockade of Gaza. Surely the way for Israel to seize the high ground was to say that they would stop the blockade as soon as Shalit was released. But in all the charges and counter-charges I don't recall hearing Shalit's name at all.

In the latest twist, the Israeli government is outraged that Shalit was subjected to an interview with the Egyptian press before being released. According to the Associated Press, one of the questions was, "You have known what it is like to be in captivity. There are more than 5,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails. Will you help campaign for their release?" Does moral equivalence between kidnap victims and convicted murderers make you a little uncomfortable? That's the equivalence that the Israeli government has just signed onto.

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