Perhaps Olmert Is Learning, And Maybe We’re Not

Perhaps Olmert Is Learning, And Maybe We’re Not

A day after offering a broad, if familiar, view of a path for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the Olmert government now signals that they will stop offering any more concessions until Hamas returns Gilad Shalit from captivity. All of Israel’s offers of opened commerce and prisoner returns will remain on hold until they have Shalit:

There is unlikely to be any additional progress in the suddenly rejuvenated diplomatic process until Cpl. Gilad Shalit is released, a senior diplomatic source said Tuesday, on the eve of a visit by Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.Suleiman met last week in Cairo with Damascus-based Hamas head Khaled Mashaal, who Israel believes holds the key to Shalit’s fate.

The official hinted that expanding the cease-fire from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank would also be dependent on the release of Shalit, who has been held since June 25.

“Until the Shalit issue is solved, it will now be difficult to move forward with any confidence-building steps with the Palestinians beyond the decision Sunday to move the IDF out of Gaza,” the official said.

According to the official, the Palestinian failure to release Shalit is holding up a large release of Palestinian security prisoners and other steps that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert mentioned in his Sde Boker address Monday, such as removing road blocks, allowing more freedom of movement and opening border crossings. Olmert said in his speech that he would even release prisoners “serving long-term sentences.”

This new tenacity comes a little late. Apparently, Olmert has agreed in principle to allow the Badr Brigade to return from Jordan to Gaza to assist Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah gain some control where Hamas has its power base. Washington gave its support to the plan when Olmert visited the US two weeks ago, which will allow 1200 “troops” formerly under the command of Yasser Arafat to operate within the territories.

I’m not sure why the US wants more terrorists in Gaza, but it seems we do. The thinking must be that Abbas is a partner for peace … and therefore he needs more terrorists in order to prevail over Hamas and the gang war in progress in Gaza. Perhaps we believe that Fatah represents a much better hope for a negotiated peace, but so far, that has not been demonstrated by any evidence at all. In fact, we have seen this week that Fatah continues to actively participate in terrorism against Israel by shooting Qassams from Gaza into Sderot, giving Islamic Jihad a break from its launcher duties.

Is this more Baker-Scowcroft realpolitik? Or is it just another case of wishful thinking on the capacity for peace from current Palestinian leadership? If we’ve reduced ourselves to having to choose which flavor of terrorism we’ll tolerate, we have dramatically lowered our expectations on the war against terrorists, probably to the point of losing entirely.

Olmert, for once, provides an example of firmness on the issue. He will not allow the Badr Brigade to move into Gaza nor any of his other offers to take effect until the Palestinians return Shalit, unharmed. That might be the start of a more realistic look at the futility of appeasement, a lesson that the West needs to learn all over again, it would seem.

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