Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Peace Of The Blind

While the shaky Middle East cease-fire continues to survive despite occasional breaches by the Israeli defense forces, recent media reports suggest that a deal between Israel and Hezbollah, involving a prisoner swap, is under way. An Egyptian daily even went as far as to report that the exchange could take place within two to three weeks [Link].

In 2004, a Germany brokered deal " saw the return of the bodies of three IDF soldiers who were kidnapped in October 2000 and of Israeli businessman Elhanan Tennenbaum. In return, Israel released some 430 Arab prisoners, most of them Palestinians, as well as the bodies of 60 Lebanese soldiers. The deal also includes the release of German prisoner Stephan Smyrek, accused of planning attacks on the Israeli Embassy in Bonn." [Link]

In 1996, Israel freed 45 Shiiete Muslims and returned more than 100 Hezbollah bodies in exchange for the remains of two Israeli soldiers. [Link]

Since 1948, Israel has negotiated dozens of similar deals with the Arab groups, and this time will be no different from the previous ones--regardless of whether Israel and Lebanon have reached an agreement or are still hammering out the details, a deal of some form that would enable the return of the captured Israeli soldiers in exchange for a number of Lebanese prisoners held in Israeli jails, is inevitable.

Ironically, Israel is now holding talks for a prisoner swap after presiding over 34 days of carnage and cluster bombs--a proposal it flatly rejected when Hezbollah released a statement making clear its intention for a prisoner exchange shortly after the kidnapping of two soldiers on the fateful morning of July 12.

The obvious question is, why not then? Why, only after turning the clock of Lebanon back 20 years? Why did Israel refuse to negotiate before, and instead launch a ferocious retaliatory attack on Lebanon?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the ruins of Lebanon--the bloody message of hegemony: you live with Hezbollah, we leave you in your graves; you bite a finger, we will chop your limbs off. Period.

From Israel's point of view, the option of negotiation was always there, it's never off the table. However, in Hezbollah's act they saw an excellent opportunity to execute what they had in mind for quite some time. All they needed, was an excuse, no matter how feeble.

As opposed to the views of the multitude of pundits (which I'm not), Hezbollah's ambush of the Israeli patrol, although ill-advised, was hardly provocative and not under any stretch of imagination could be conceived as a serious threat to Israel's right to exist.

Why not?

Because the tactic of taking hostages to be used later as bargaining chips to secure the release of prisoners is hardly copy-righted by Hezbollah or Hamas. Israel is, and has always been a part of the tradition.

In 1996, the New York Times ran a story on prisoner swap where among other things it also mentioned: "Among its Shiite prisoners, Israel still holds two top Hezbollah officials, Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid and Mustafa Dirani, kidnapped by its commandos as potential bargaining chips, and Mr. Netanyahu expressed hope that today's agreement might lead to a further exchange."

More recently, about two and half weeks before all hell broke loose, Reuters reported a largely ignored incident: "Israeli forces detained two Palestinians, who the army said were Hamas militants, in the Gaza Strip on Saturday in what marked the first such arrest raid in the territory since Israel pulled out of Gaza a year ago."

The above incident led Hamas to capture Gilad Shalit. Since then, Israel has pounded away in Gaza killing tens of civilians, and has captured no less than 35 Palestinian lawmakers and 5 senior government officials, as chips to a potential prisoner swap. The list includes the deputy prime minister in the Hamas led government.

Kidnapping of two soldiers is hardly a threat to existence, which everyone but Israel and its supporters recognize. Even if I assume that's the case, why then the measuring stick is different for the Palestinians and the Lebanese? When would we have the courage to admit that they also have the equal rights to live in peace, with dignity and not under a continuum cloud of Israeli assaults? Why should Israeli aggressions be viewed through the looking glass of the three proverbial monkeys?

Let me say this again: Hezbollah's ambush on July 12 was neither a provocation--nor a threat to Israel's existence. It was merely advancing a pawn in one of the mindless war games played out by both sides who are blind to the consequences they bring to their own people.

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