Gilad Shalit was abducted by Hamas on the 25th of June 2006 and has been held illegally ever since. In complete disregard for common decency and humanitarian law, Hamas has refused Red Cross visits and has provided only one sign of life in five years.
Now, with the new joint Hamas-Fatah venture, Gilad’s fate is also in Fatah’s hands. If Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas insists on the matter, Shalit can be back home by week’s end. His continued stay in captivity will clearly show who truly is in charge of the new Palestinian conglomerate. This is a basic test of leadership.
Surely there are more substantial stepping stones before statehood, such as economic stability, enhanced security, recognition of the Jewish state and the consistent will and capability to prevent terror and incitement. In that respect, ripeness is lacking, as the recent Palestinian slaying of the Fogel family in Itamar, the continued rocket fire from Gaza on civilians, the targeting of an Israeli school bus on the border and the murder of Jewish worshiper Ben-Yosef Livnat clearly shows.
One simple step, however, can start a change. Free Shalit. It is not complicated. All that is required is a decisive call by the same Fatah and Hamas leaders who posed for a portrait of unity last week. Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas, are the ones now holding Shalit. These are the people who can and need to let him go.
Who sets the tone?
In the meantime, Israel and the rest of the free world should look carefully whether a new, peace-seeking Palestinian leadership has emerged or if it’s more of the same, or worse, in different packaging. Will Haniyeh, who callously condemned the US killing of Osama bin Laden, set the tone, or will it be the ostensibly mild mannered Abbas?
Any sophisticated negotiation models or feeble initiatives from former generals and failed politicians that now offer Hamas further incentives are insane. In fact, it should be made clear that if Shalit is not peacefully released, Haniyeh may face a similar fate to that of his self proclaimed mentors – Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin who was targeted by Israel in March 2004, and Osama bin laden.
Gilad Shalit should be released without preconditions or further ado. If that materializes immediately, the new Palestinian leadership may gain stipulated legitimacy. If not, they should be banned by all civilized societies. It is as simple as that.
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