Home a week and a half, Gilad Schalit is rebuilding his life in bits and pieces of ordinary humanity. He has gone to the beach with his father, where bystanders reported seeing the two wading into the water, laughing at the waves, casting soulful eyes to the sea’s far horizon and, simply, walking free.
Not surprisingly, given his confinement for more than five years to small spaces and large darknesses, walking seems to be a key part of Gilad’s regimen of restoration. The newspapers have reported that he has gone on walks with his brother, his mother and his father.
Gilad is healing, his father and his friends say, even as they plead that the 25-year-old’s privacy be respected.
Now that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rescued Gilad Schalit, he is being asked to “rescue” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, too.
Hamas has gained considerable purchase with the proverbial Palestinian man on the street. By repatriating hundreds of prisoners from Israeli jails, it has delivered the goods, so to speak. And to keep the pressure on the PA, it keeps the prisoner-release drum beat pounding. Ahmed Jabari, the head of Hamas’ military wing, last weekend threatened more kidnappings of Israelis. “Those same operations will continue as long as there are Palestinian prisoners in jail in Israel,” Jabari said.
Abbas and the PA are now seen by the Ramallah street as being weaker than Hamas. And it falls to Israel, some people maintain, to boost Abbas’ standing and resuscitate his political stature with his own people. These very same individuals seem to have forgotten about Abbas’ UN ploy last month and his massive betrayal of the American administration, the EU, the Quartet and even, it can be said, his putative Israeli bargaining partner.
The Abbas-rescue suggestions are many. They include increasing the number of Palestinians to be released under the next phase of the Schalit deal, returning the bodies of slain terrorists, and transferring additional portions of the West Bank to exclusive PA control. Indeed Netanyahu last weekend renewed his offer of a partial freeze on construction in the West Bank. But Abbas has expressed no willingness to return to the table. And herein lies the major problem for the government of Israel. It is entirely uncertain of Abbas’ intentions. Does he plan to resume bilateral negotiations?
Once again, Israel is being asked to give the PA a tactical, stature-enhancing, confidence-building quid without receiving a reciprocal quo. If Abbas would return to the table, he would quickly see that merely by sitting across from his adversaries, making his people’s case, his stature would soar among his own people – and with Israelis.