The Gilad Shalit affair is one of the greatest burdens faced by the prime minister, and he had to remove it from the agenda in order to create a new image and elicit tolerance and sympathy to the government and its decisions – both in the domestic theater and among Israel’s friends, especially in Western Europe.
So why does the PM need this new image, to the point of renouncing his uncompromising principles on the issue of fighting terror? The answer to this mystery can be found in the enigmatic message he conveyed to the nation Tuesday evening.
Netanyahu spoke of a window of opportunity that is about to be closed and connected it to geostrategic developments. The average listener would translate this to mean the so-called Arab Spring and Arab world upheaval, which create uncertainty. Yet this is not the real reason.
When Netanyahu and Ehud Barak are concerned, it’s always somehow related to Iran. This is apparently the backdrop for the prime minister’s decision to show flexibility and convince the forum of top eight government ministers not to interrupt and finalize the Shalit deal.
What exactly is happening on the Iranian front? The answer is unclear. Yet this is clearly the next hot issue, and Israel better get there with an image of a flexible, pragmatic state that is willing to offer concessions. The Europeans will be applauding us, and no less importantly, it will boost the national consensus and the prime minister’s image ahead of the next challenge.
Red lines breached
The moment the PM was convinced to change direction, the way to completing the Shalit deal was paved. Once Netanyahu was convinced that he can renounce his principles, because more important matters are on the agenda, he gave the green light to Israel’s top negotiator, David Midan, to prepare a new list that breached all the red lines.
The freed prisoners will include representatives of the entire Palestinian nation, from every organization and every region – from the 1947 Palestine, from the Golan Heights and from Jerusalem. While these are not the numbers Hamas wanted, it won the public opinion battle. Israel also agreed to release some 15 heavyweight terrorists whom Netanyahu obligated not to free and said no other PM would release.
For Netanyahu, this deal is a default option. In his view, failing to implement it would have caused greater damage, in light of Israel’s preparation ahead of its encounter with the great threat.
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