Even though 19-year-old Gilad Shalit, kidnapped two weeks ago by Hamas from inside Israel, has been in the thoughts and prayers of ordinary Israelis, his abduction and even the Gaza incursion were becoming less and less a topic of conversation in restaurants and coffee houses. With the kidnappings Wednesday morning of two soldiers by Hezbollah near the Lebanese border, though, that's changed.
Israeli talk radio shows were abuzz with upset callers wondering how it was possible that two more young Israelis could be kidnapped—something that didn’t happen before the Gaza disengagement. Between the kidnappings and the Qassam rockets being fired from Gaza into Israeli cities of Sderot and Ashkelon, the Israeli public is focusing intensely on politics, largely for the first time since the election in March.
The reason ordinary, otherwise apolitical Israelis supported Gaza disengagement last year had nothing to do with Oslo-era delusions that peace was possible. Israelis simply want an end to the prolonged “negotiations” which never really lead anywhere. Unilateral disengagement was sold and supported on the idea that there was no partner with whom to negotiate, so Israel would just pull out to end the headache once and for all. It offered at least the hint of an opportunity for “normalcy.”
Now the body politic appears poised to swing in the other direction, meaning no more appetite for unilateral concessions. Which, were that to happen, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would find the central—perhaps only—platform from his campaign left in tatters. Shortly after Olmert dropped “acting” from his title, the new political buzzword became “convergence,” which was in essence a proposed disengagement from most of the West Bank. As a personal friend of Olmert’s conceded to me today, “That’s dead for now, at least for this term.”
Given his election as a quasi-dove, Olmert needs to burnish his security credentials. When a prominent member of his cabinet suggested that an “exchange” of Palestinian “militants” for Shalit was possible, Olmert rebuked him sharply. Then in his press conference on Monday, he used “le’olam,” which is a very strong Hebrew expression for “never,” to state in what seemed to be no uncertain terms that negotiating with terrorists was not an option.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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