As direct negotiations resume this week between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government, there is a degree of optimism in Washington, though it is hard to say whether that is the result of signs of progress or naivete.
After 17 years of raised expectations followed by failure, from Oslo to Annapolis, some hopeful observers note the relative lack of violence in the region, the improved Palestinian Authority security forces and the pragmatic accomplishments of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in creating an infrastructure for a Palestinian state. Another positive sign has been the ability of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to move forward on the negotiations front while keeping his right-wing coalition in line, at least until now.
It is especially important now that the international community focus on and address an appalling situation that Israel and world Jewry is all too aware of, namely the continuing captivity of Gilad Shalit, the kidnapped Israeli soldier who just marked his 24th birthday this week, his fifth in Hamas-controlled Gaza.
It is gratifying that the British government this week demanded Shalit’s unconditional release, noting that his continued detention is “unjustifiable and unacceptable.” Where is the United Nations and the rest of the world in making similar demands to free a soldier whose captors have refused him any contact with the outside world or visits from the International Red Cross?
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has launched a website to dramatize Gilad Shalit’s plight — http://www.giladgreetings.org — which features a video and song about his situation, background information, links to congressional resolutions and a message from Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel.
This one soldier’s captivity is a painful reminder that the road to Mideast peace is tortuous even if progress can be made with the Palestinian Authority. The reality is that Hamas, which controls Gaza and its 1.5 million inhabitants, remains committed to the destruction of the Jewish state and the Jewish people.
We must do our part to show support for Shalit while demanding the world pressure Hamas for his unconditional release.