Shalit cause building steam
It’s been a long time coming, but the Obama administration is finally putting some muscle behind its calls for the release of Gilad Shalit.
However, to use some boxing jargon, all those who hope and pray for the Israeli soldier’s quick release are still waiting for the KO.
It’s high time Israel forced the issue.
Palestinian terrorists, kidnapped Shalit June 25, 2006, in a cross-border raid from Gaza. For four years now — the anniversary of the abduction was this week — Hamas has held the young man hostage, refusing to let anyone, including the International Red Cross, visit him and confirm he is in good health.
But since the Israeli navy interdicted the so-called “freedom flotilla” last month off the Gazan coast, Shalit’s cause has been energized. Israelis and Jews around the world have launched their own movements demanding his release. “The True Freedom Flotilla,” as it was called, set sail from Pier 40 in New York to the stretch of the East River near the United Nations. And in Israel, a two-week march from the Galilee to Jerusalem, led by Shalit’s family, attracting 10,000 participants, began this week.
But the real punch behind this organic movement came Wednesday when U.S. Middle East Envoy George Mitchell visited the Kerem Shalom border crossing to Gaza and called Shalit’s four-year captivity “unacceptable and inhumane behavior.”
Continuing, Mitchell said, “We are standing near the place that Gilad Shalit was kidnapped, four years ago. We condemn his captivity and the conditions in which he is held, without allowing the Red Cross to visit him. We call for his immediate release.”
It is the clearest message yet that the Obama administration wants this issue resolved soon, but it’s not enough. Historically, Arab leaders have been very consistent in demanding that U.S. officials put pressure on Israel to make concessions that are hardly in the Jewish state’s interest. It’s time to turn the tables. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due in Washington July 6 for talks with the president. During that meeting, he should make it clear, if he hasn’t already, that Shalit’s release must be a top priority. That doesn’t mean Israel should do anything to get him back, including release hundreds of terrorists from Israeli jails.
Instead, Bibi should make clear to Obama that absolutely nothing will happen until Shalit is home safe with his family — no easing of blockade restrictions, no illegal settlement dismantling, no freeze on East Jerusalem building permits, no indirect talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Shalit has been in the darkness of captivity long enough. For the first time in a long time there is some semblance of momentum for an end to his ordeal. But unless the Israeli government puts all the diplomatic power it can muster behind this latest surge, the opportunity will quickly vanish. How much longer must Shalit be a pawn in Middle East politics?