I am composing these lines while looking through the window at the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, and thinking about the young man who is being held not far from this sea, a few dozen kilometers from here.

Can Gilad Shalit look out on the same sea through his window? Does he even have a window? How is he? How is he being treated?

He has been in captivity for four years and one day today, with no end in sight.

Gilad Shalit has become a living symbol – a symbol of Israeli reality, of the inability of our leaders to make decisions, of their moral and political cowardice, of their inability to analyze a situation and draw conclusions.

If there had been an opportunity to free Shalit through military action, the Israeli government would have seized it eagerly.

So much is obvious, because the Israeli public always prefers solving a problem by force than doing anything that might be interpreted as weakness. The rescue of the hostages at Entebbe in 1976 is considered one of the most glorious exploits in the history of Israel, even though there was only a hair’s breadth between success and failure. It was a gamble with the lives of the 105 hostages and the soldiers, and it was successful.

In other cases, though, the gamble did not succeed. Not in Munich in 1972, when they gambled with the lives of the athletes, and lost. Not in Ma’alot in 1974, when they gambled with the lives of the schoolchildren, and lost. Not in the attempt to free the captured soldier Nachschon Wachsman in 1994, when they gambled with his life, and lost.

If there had been any chance of freeing Shalit by force, they would have risked his life, and probably lost. Fortunately for him, there has been no such chance. So far.

Actually, this is quite remarkable. Our security services have hundreds of secret collaborators in the Gaza Strip, in addition to high tech surveillance. Yet it seems that no reliable information about Shalit’s whereabouts has been obtained.

How has Hamas succeeded in this? Among other measures, by not allowing any contact with the captive – no meetings with the International Red Cross or foreign dignitaries, just two short videos, almost no letters. They simply cannot be pressurized. They refuse all requests of this nature.

This problem could possibly be overcome if our government had been ready to give assurances that no attempt would be made to free him by force, in return for a Hamas undertaking to let him meet with the Red Cross. To be credible, such an undertaking would probably need a guarantee by a third party, such as the US.

Absent such an arrangement, all the sanctimonious speeches by foreign statesmen about “letting the Red Cross meet with the soldier” are just so many empty words.

No less hypocritical are the demands of foreign personalities to “free the kidnapped soldier”.

Such demands are music to the Israeli ear, but completely disregard the fact that the subject has to be an exchange of prisoners.

Gilad Shalit is alive and breathing, a young man whose fate arouses strong human emotions. But so are the Palestinian prisoners. They are alive and breathing, and their fate, too, arouses strong human emotions. They include young people, whose lives are being wasted in prison. They include political leaders, who are being punished for simply belonging to one or another organization. They include people who, in Israeli parlance, “have blood on their hands”, and who, in Palestinian parlance, are national heroes who have sacrificed their own freedom for their people’s liberation.

The price demanded by Hamas may seem exorbitant – a thousand for one. But Israel has already paid such a price for other prisoners in the past, and that has become the standard ratio. Hamas could not accept less without losing face.

The thousand Palestinian prisoners have families – fathers, mothers, husbands, wives and children, brothers and sisters. Exactly like Gilad Shalit. They, too, cry out, demand, exert pressure. Hamas cannot ignore them.

The whole affair is shocking evidence of the inability of our government – both the previous and the present one – to take decisions and even to think logically.

Hamas already fixed the price four years ago, according to past precedents. Their demand has not changed since then.

From the first moment, there was a need to make a decision.

No doubt, such an agreement would strengthen Hamas. It would underline its legitimacy as an important Palestinian factor. It would be seen as confirming the mantra that “Israel understands only the language of force”.

Therefore, it comes down to a simple question: Yes or No?

Yes means a blow to Mahmoud Abbas, whose conciliatory ways have not led to the release of one single important Palestinian prisoner. (The US has vetoed any such agreement, since it would strengthen Hamas, which it designates as a “terrorist organization”, and weaken Abbas, whom the Americans consider as their man.)

No means life-imprisonment for Shalit, with perpetual danger to his life.

For four years now, our leaders have been unable to decide, much as they are unable to decide upon any other important matter concerning our future. (For example: Two states or one apartheid state? Peace or settlements? Making a peace agreement with Abbas or negotiating with Hamas?)

In order to wriggle out of the necessity to make a decision, various tricks have been employed. Among others, the assertion that the purpose of the Gaza blockade was to free Shalit.

That was from the beginning a mendacious pretext. The blockade was imposed in order to compel the Gaza population to overthrow the regime of Hamas, which had won the Palestinian elections. The Shalit connection served only for spin.

Now the blockade has been partially lifted. That is a huge victory for the aid flotilla – a victory the planners of the flotilla did not dare to hope for in their wildest dreams. As a result of the stupid decision to attack the Turkish ship, international pressure made this step unavoidable.

Among other pretexts, the government declared that “anyhow the blockade did not help in freeing Shalit”.

Shalit’s parents cried out. They really believed that there was a connection between the blockade and the fate of their son. But it is obvious that, when deciding to give in to international pressure and lift the blockade partially, Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak did not even think about Shalit.

I stress the word “partially”. True, it is a huge victory for all those of us who said from the beginning that the blockade was immoral, illegal and unwise. The decision to let everything into the Strip except arms constitutes a big change.

But the main problem in Gaza is poverty induced by unemployment. Practically all enterprises in the Gaza Strip have been shut down by the blockade. Not only could they not obtain raw materials, but, no less important, they could not export their products to the West Bank, Israel or the world at large. It seems that this situation has not changed. Even if the remaining enterprises receive raw materials now, they cannot export their products – textiles, fruit, flowers and all the rest. Israeli suppliers will now make millions selling their wares in the Gaza Strip, but the Gazans will not be able to sell their products in Israel.

Anyhow, this does not concern the fate of Shalit.

The Shalit family is in terrible distress. One can understand them, but sympathy does not prohibit disagreement.

They are wrong when they object to the lifting of the blockade. They are wrong when they demand that Hamas prisoners in Israel not be allowed family visits. (And not only because the families residing in Gaza are not allowed into Israel anyhow.)

One cannot have it both ways. When Noam Shalit, the father, demands that a thousand Hamas prisoners be released to free his son – he cannot at the same time take part in persecuting Hamas prisoners. He cannot demand humane treatment for his son – and at the same time justify the inhumane treatment of the Gaza population. This double standard bewilders the public and undermines the campaign for freeing Gilad.

The message must be simple, clear and straightforward, and addressed to Binyamin Netanyahu: to make the decision to implement the prisoner swap at once. Gilad will return home, and all Israelis will be jubilant. The Palestinian prisoners will also return to their homes, and there, too, everyone will be jubilant.

The inability of Netanyahu to make decisions and stand behind them reveals the full extent of his incompetence as a leader.

Instead, we have a specialist in marketing (which happens to be his original profession), a person who wakes up in the morning with polls and goes to sleep at night with polls. The pollsters tell him that freeing Gilad Shalit would be popular in Israel, but freeing the Palestinians would be unpopular. At night, in bed, he agonizes about it: Which would be better? How many votes would be gained, how many votes would be lost?

That is frightening. If he cannot make a straightforward decision about the fate of Shalit, how can he make decisions about the problems that affect the fate of all of us, not for one year but for generations to come?

Uri Avnery is a peace activist, journalist, and writer. Read other articles by Uri, or visit Uri's website.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. mary said on June 27th, 2010 at 3:56am #

    This article contains a phrase that would suggest that there are 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israel prisons. There are over 10,000 including hundreds of children.

    How about this for a BBC lie? It is contained in a website report on Shalit’s parents leading a march to Netanyahu’s home in Jerusalem.

    ‘One of the main reasons for Israel’s long blockade of Gaza was the continued detention of Sgt Shalit, said the BBC’s Wyre Davies in Jerusalem.

    Now that Israel has eased – if not completely lifted – that embargo, it hopes and expects that Sgt Shalit will be released, our correspondent says.’

    See this thread on medialens where Davies is challenged but does not reply.

    Something useful for Wyre Davies to read – John Hilley
    Re: Something useful for Wyre Davies to read – Rhisiart Gwilym
    Hope you send him that Cook piece, John. Even if he daren’t answer, he may read and note. NOM – Rhisiart Gwilym
    Is the BBC covered by the PCC? – Stephen

  2. mary said on June 27th, 2010 at 6:48am #

    A different view of the situation from Ali Abunimah of Electonic Intifada

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain said on June 28th, 2010 at 1:53pm #

    Ah,mary,it takes a low type of human vermin to lie so arrogantly,but the Rightwing media, the pro-Zionist media and the ZBC in particular have no problem in turning over the correct rocks to find these creatures. Of course there is rank opportunism,of the dissembler that knows what the masters require of his propaganda work,there is possibly some form of racism allied to the obligatory obsequiousness to the Herrenvolk and there is probably simple human odiousness, all at work here. Perhaps the creep sees his future at FoxsNewsLtd, and this crap is some sort of job application.Whatever, he seems eminently suited to be an apparatchik in our psychopathic media indoctrination system.

  4. mary said on June 29th, 2010 at 12:55am #

    This just came in from Sonia Karkar from Australians for Palestine Mulga about Gillard’s cosy relationship with Israel. Evidently Gillard is not a new broom but a replica of those of your leaders from the recent past. I had read that her partner was a hairdresser. It seems that he is a property salesman.

    Gillard accused of soft line on Tel Aviv

    The Age
    29 June 2010

    PM Julia Gillard, her partner Tim Mathieson and his employer and founder of the Australia Israel Forum, Albert Dadon

    A FORMER Australian ambassador to Israel has accused Prime Minister Julia Gillard of being silent on the ”excesses” of Israel, and has questioned
    why her partner has been given a job by a prominent Israel lobbyist.

    In a letter to The Sydney Morning Herald, Ross Burns, who was ambassador in Tel Aviv between 2001 and 2003, said Ms Gillard had been ”remarkably taciturn on the excesses of Israeli actions in the past two years”.

    He questioned Ms Gillard’s stance given that she led an Australian
    delegation to Israel last year for the inaugural meeting of the Australia
    Israel Leadership Forum. ”It looks a bit funny when you go on this tour to
    promote bilateral relations, but you don’t seem to have any reservations
    about the issue that was number one on the horizon,” Mr Burns said.

    He also questioned the propriety of Ms Gillard’s partner, Tim Mathieson,
    being employed as a real estate salesman by the founder of the Australia
    Israel Forum, Melbourne property developer Albert Dadon.

    Continue reading on our website

    Q Who gave Dadon the AM? Have you seen Dadon’s Wikipedia page?. It is straight out of Mills and Boon.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain said on June 29th, 2010 at 10:46am #

    Talk about synchronicity,mary.I was just looking for one of your posts to mention this very same piece of information. Of course Gillard disgraced herself by her mendacious and craven support for Israel’s murderous rampage in Gaza, but the part of this article, which you have left out, that I find most interesting, was the central role in Rudd’s termination played by Michael Danby. Danby, a Zionist Jew of the most extreme type, is, in my humble opinion, the most dangerous and sinister figure in Federal politics. He is, in my opinion, the leading figure in our politics in vilifying Islam, the Palestinians and any who dare support the Palestinians in their interminable struggle with evil. I believe it is also plain that Danby is not a ‘dual loyalist’, but one whose prime, if not sole allegiance, is not to Australia, but to the Zionist terror state.He is also, I believe it is unarguable, one of the central figures in demonising China in this country, a project that he undertakes by toadying to the Dalai, berating China over its non-existent role in the non-existent ‘genocide’ in Darfur and welcoming the Uighur separatist leader, Washington’s darling and, according to Beijing, terrorist leader, Kadeer. Derailing China’s rise is an absolute Zionist priority, China not being controlled by its rich Jews, as is the West, and Danby is a loyal footsoldier in that aspect of Israel’s campaign to maintain its global position of dominance.
    Danby’s role in ousting Rudd,is no surprise, not to me at least. As soon as Rudd changed a few UN votes from pro-Israel (in the glorious company of Palau,Micronesia, Nauru and the Zionist colony formerly known as the USA)to abstaining, and particularly when he had an Israeli Murder Incorporated (aka Mossad) operative expelled over the Israeli theft of Australian passports used in the ritual murder in Dubai, I suspected that he would be made an example of. The ferocious campaign of lies, character assassination and calumny launched against him soon after by the FoxNewsLtd pathocrats now seems to have its immediate cause revealed.Prominent in abusing Rudd over his lack of appropriate obeisance to the real rulers of the planet was Greg Sheridan, who,in his groveling admiration and sycophancy to all things Israeli and Jewish,and Danby in particular, long since became emetic in his effect. The coincidence is too much for me, but you can be certain that the Zionist dominated Australian media system will leave it well alone.Having Gillard’s old man on the payroll is standard operating procedure for the Zionazis, as is the destruction of those, even Prime Ministers, who forget their place, as creatures with souls closer to that of animals than those of Jews,if I may paraphrase Rabbi Kook the Elder,that well-known Judaic moral exemplar. I hope, and trust, that Gillard never forgets that central lesson, and judging by her hideous performance over Gaza, I’m sure that she won’t.