Sunday, June 29, 2008

Paying the price for non-peace

Why Israel's cabinet agreed today to swap convicted murderers for the bodies of two soldiers captured by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah is difficult to understand. True, Israel's shaky coalition government has been moving on several diplomatic fronts to achieve some sort of progress in the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian conflict, and has been assailed by relatives of the missing soldiers for some closure. And, true, the Olmert government probably wants to achieve some distance from the inconclusive monthlong war it launched against Hezbollah following the kidnapping. But the release of five Lebanese gunmen now, including notorious killer Samir Qantar, and many more in the coming weeks seems a very high price to pay. Qantar was convicted of killing an unarmed Israeli man and bashing in the skull of his 4-year-old daughter during a raid on the Israeli town of Nahariya in 1979. Qantar's family says the two were killing by gunfire during the raid. But this is precisely the point. Hezbollah thinks the civilian deaths were mere collateral damage during a perfectly justifiable military operation. What this illustrates is that Israel can expect nothing but continuing emnity from the Hezbollah guerrillas to the north, despite the agreement. The deal had to be negotiated through a German mediator because Hezbollah and Israel refuse to talk to each other. Israel may very well have a lot to answer for in its arrests and treatment of tens of thousands of Palestinians over the years. We could expect to get those answers if the parties to this conflict moved beyond the constant state of war. But Hezbollah even refused to disclose any information about the health of the kidnapped soldiers. If the two sides were interested in actually talking peace, they would have communicated directly.

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