What does the Gilad Shalit deal really mean?
The Gilad Shalit exchange means a great deal for the released prisoners and their families. But in the larger picture, it won't bring much change.
The release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners is a breakthrough for the detainees and their families.Skip to next paragraph
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The return home of a frail-seeming Mr. Shalit, an Israeli everyman, has transfixed the nation. In the West Bank and in Gaza, returning prisoners have set off emotional celebrations of their own. The homecomings have been played to the hilt by Hamas, Fatah, and the Netanyahu administration for whatever domestic political gain can be wrung from them.
But pay no heed to editorials or news articles that hint this prisoner swap is going to reframe peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, dramatically improve the faltering position of Hamas, or lead to a thawing in chilly relations between Israel and Egypt, which helped facilitate the ongoing prisoner exchange.
Yes, Israel negotiated with Hamas, a group they and the US consider to be terrorists. But pragmatically dealing with opponents is nothing new for Israel, particularly when it comes to returning Israeli soldiers.
In 1985, Israeli negotiated the release of three of its soldiers held in Lebanon by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, which it also deemed a terrorist group, in return for more than 1,100 Palestinian prisoners. After two Mossad agents were caught in Jordan after trying to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in 1997, Israel released Hamas spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin (later assassinated himself by Israel in Gaza) in exchange for their safe return.
And in 2004, Israel negotiated with Hezbollah the release of Elhannan Tannenbaum, a reserve colonel in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) who had been kidnapped while traveling abroad seeking to conduct a drug deal with the group. Israel released 400 Palestinian prisoners and the bodies of about 60 Hezbollah fighters in exchange for Tannenbaum and the remains of three Israeli soldiers.
There was something for everyone in the deal. But that's of little relevance to the principal issue of the Palestinian conflict – land for peace. While the Israeli public seems, by and large, willing to swallow releasing over 1,000 people, many convicted of murder and other violent crimes, in exchange for a soldier, that doesn't say much about a political willingness to compromise on settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.