Israel is, as always, caught between a rock and a hard place. It is under pressure from its best friend — the United States, that is — to keep trading hostages even as it continues to arrest Palestinians and inflame tensions in the West Bank, where Hamas is being celebrated for bringing home its own prisoners.
Formally, the United States is not telling Israel what to do, which of course it is, to be more surgical, let in more aid, exchange more hostages, keep the cease-fire going. Internally, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces domestic pressure from the right to resume the war and finish the job of destroying Hamas, and externally, Israel — more than any other actor in the world — faces dire disapproval virtually everywhere it turns.
Hamas, it is reported, is more popular than ever, notwithstanding the destruction it has triggered. Does anyone but Hamas' closest neighbor forget what havoc it has wreaked?
And what is Israel to do?
Resume or pause?
Defeat or eliminate?
Sink or swim?
No matter what it does, it will be blamed.
Strict scrutiny, to borrow a phrase, is what Israel always faces. Even 1,200 murdered. Even tunnels in the basement under the hospital won't be enough to satisfy the skeptics; they want more. More what? More proof that Israel plays — and is judged — according to a different set of rules than other combatants in the Middle East?
But we knew that, or at least some of us do.
The rest are busy judging Israel.
At least the antisemitism is on full view as the deck gets reshuffled. Israel isn't different. Jews could still use a homeland. Seventy-five years later, Israel still struggles with neighbors who would deny its right to exist but claim it is nothing personal. Nothing personal is worth nothing at all.
And do the Gazans still cheer on Hamas? Do they celebrate the hostage takers, cheer the rapists? These are men who burned human babies. Are they anyone's heroes? Tell me that story, too. How easily it gets lost. These are Jewish children whose parents died in front of them or were snatched away and cannot be found. International law, anyone?
The battle of the spin rooms goes on every night. The Israelis try to prove their targets are legitimate. They show openings to tunnels. Underneath the hospital. It is a hospital that hides terrorists. What does that make it? A house of cowards, perhaps. A house guarded by innocents, by human shields of abuse?
Who writes the rules for this war? It is not a game; it is not played fairly. Knowing that, do you go high or low? It would be better if good always triumphed, but it doesn't. What is the right exchange rate? Is 3-to-1 too high or too low?
And what does Israel do? Mark my words, it will be shellacked no matter what it does. The pause will be too long or not long enough. Too few — no matter how many — will be released. Israel will give up too many or arrest too many or release the worst ones. Whatever, it will be wrong, and in that, reaffirms its status as the only democracy in the region.
Susan Estrich is a politician, professor, lawyer and writer. Whether on the pages of newspapers such as The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post or as a television commentator on countless news programs on CNN, Fox News, NBC, ABC, CBS and NBC, she has tackled legal matters, women's concerns, national politics and social issues. Read Susan Estrich's Reports — More Here.