Tuesday, October 18, 2011

WSJ - The line between moral values and moral hazard can be thin.

Wall Street Journal
17 October '11
H/T Ruthfully Yours


Israel has a long history of unequal prisoner exchanges. Since 1982, it has released thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a handful of Israeli soldiers and civilians, some of them living, others already dead. Last week, it agreed to release more than a 1,000 Palestinians, many of them serving life sentences for murder, in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who has been held hostage in Gaza since June 2006.

The Jewish state’s repeated willingness to pay an exorbitant price for its citizens is a testament to its national and religious values, which stress the obligation to redeem captives. There’s an instructive contrast in that, for anyone who cares to notice it, with the ethics of Hamas, which refused to grant the Red Cross permission to so much as visit Sgt. Shalit. There’s a contrast, too, with the ethics of those Palestinians now cheering the release of “brothers” imprisoned for committing such acts as a 1989 bus bombing that killed 10 Israelis and the 2001 bombing of a Jerusalem pizzeria.

But virtues often have their defects, and the line between moral values and moral hazard can be a thin one. The negotiations to return Sgt. Shalit dragged on as long as they did largely because Hamas had reason to believe it could drive the hardest possible bargain. The same logic explains why Israelis will continue to be tempting targets for hostage taking.

Sooner or later, Israel will learn the name of its next Gilad Shalit. Sooner or later, too, it will learn that the better course is to give its enemies reasons to think twice before taking hostages in the first place.

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