Good Will Wasted

In a gesture of good will, Israel last week released five imprisoned terrorists, plus the remains of two hundred others, in exchange for the remains of two Israeli soldiers. How was this received by the Arabs?  

If the Lebanon government were not in thrall to the Iranian-Syrian terrorists of Hizballah, if there were a pretense of action against terrorism, these men would have gone from one prison to another.  But Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and other dignitaries greeted the freed jihadists at the Beirut airport as heroes.  Among the terrorists was Samir Kantar of the Palestinian Liberation Front, who bludgeoned a four-year-old girl to death with his rifle butt on an Israeli beach in 1979. There followed a huge rally in Beirut, where Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah exulted that the “age of defeats” was over.

Cheered by the crowd, Kantar and the other freed jihadists walked a red carpet to the grave of Imad Mughniyeh, a senior member of Hizballah who was killed in February 2008. Mughniyeh has been linked to many terrorist attacks, including the bombings of the Marine barracks and the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983, as well as the 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires. Addressing Mughniyeh, Kantar declared: “We swear by God…to continue on your same path and not to retreat until we achieve the same stature that God bestowed on you” – that is, the status Islamic martyrdom that is attained by those who “kill and are killed” for Allah, in accord with Qur’an 9:111. Each of the five freed prisoners vowed to continue their jihad against Israel.

Amid all the festivities it may be easy to lose sight of the fact that Israel agreed to this prisoner exchange in order to try to end that jihad against Israel, and to try to demonstrate its willingness to make peace. But the reception accorded these prisoners show that peace is the last thing on the mind of Hizballah and other jihadist forces. David Baker, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, remarked: “Kantar is a brutal child murderer who instead of being rejected upon his return was cheered and greeted like a rock star and this is disgusting and deplorable.”

It is indeed – and it is also revealing. The Olmert and Bush administrations have been proceeding on the assumption that the Palestinians sincerely want peace, and that if Israel and the U.S. demonstrate their good will and willingness to make concessions, these gestures will be met with similar gestures by the other side. All right. So where are these “moderates” today? Why wasn’t there anyone at that massive rally in Beirut, or anywhere else in the Middle East, who was willing to agree with Baker that Samir Kantar was not someone to be hailed as a hero, but shunned as an obstacle to the peace that all desire so fervently?

If any such moderates exist at all, they did not see fit to seize upon the occasion of this prisoner release to make their presence known. And so the “extremists” continue to be in the driver’s seat, even while the media establishment enforces the iron dogma that the moderates are the dominant mainstream in the Islamic world, and anyone who suggests otherwise is just a hatemonger.

Can America really afford to formulate foreign policy on the basis of this wishful thinking? President Bush has said that he wants to create an independent and contiguous Palestinian state before the end of his term. If the reaction in Beirut to this lopsided prisoner exchange is any indication – and it very much is – his efforts to that end will only be seen as signs of weakness by the various jihad groups in the region (as well as by their Iranian backers), and they only be further emboldened. The problem for the State Department is that there is no reliable partner on the Palestinian side with whom the Israelis and Bush can negotiate a lasting peace. The fiction that the jihad ideology is held only by a tiny minority of extremists who have hijacked the peaceful Islamic faith falls apart most definitively in relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which there is no group on the Arab side that is convincingly and unconditionally dedicated to acceptance of the existence of Israel and definitive peace with the Israelis.

But this is not simply an Israeli problem. Hizballah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has led his followers in chants of “Death to America,” and has made it clear that his grievance against the Americans is not limited to its support for Israel: should the United States continue to support policies that only strengthen such groups and increase their confidence?