Deal, or no deal?

MIDEAST ISRAEL PALESTINIANSSeveral things were noteworthy about Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s announcement on Tuesday night that negotiations for the return of Gilad Schalit had broken down:

1) News of the development was presented as a failure of the government to complete the deal. The language and tone indicated that success in this affair was solely a matter of Israeli compliance, and that Olmert, by refusing to accede fully to Hamas’s demands — even though he was prepared to make alarming concessions — had failed the test of leadership. That responsibility for Gilad Schalit’s continued imprisonment lay with Hamas was not mentioned once. There was nary a hint of anger at the terrorist organization for its extortion. Hamas was treated as the reasonable and predictable party, Olmert and the government the disappointing ones.

2) After several days of (possibly false) reports from the Prime Minister’s Office that Hamas had softened its stance and that an agreement had all but been reached, it became apparent that the group had in fact not wavered from its maximalist position even one iota. This, despite the crowing of senior officials in the waning days of Operation Cast Lead that the punishing offensive had weakened Hamas to such an extent that the group, recognizing its inferior position, would accept much less in negotiations for the release of Schalit than it had demanded before. Apparently, though, the mercy that Olmert’s government showed to Hamas two months ago actually emboldened it. If Hamas can turn down the deal that Olmert offered, it must believe it has less to gain by it than Israel — and especially Olmert — does. How telling.

3) Had she chosen a different course of action, Tzipi Livni today would not be the foreign minister in Ehud Olmert’s cabinet, facing a term that can be measured in hours, but the foreign minister in a new cabinet under Binyamin Netanyahu. And she would be joined in that cabinet by Ehud Barak as defense minister. Together, they would have greeted Gilad Schalit in his return to Israel. Instead, when the Schalit portfolio is transferred to Netanyahu and his cabinet, it will be held by foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman and defense minister Moshe Ya’alon. It doesn’t get any more hawkish than that.

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