Gilad Shalit prisoner swap: Why Netanyahu agreed to 1,000 Palestinians for one Israeli
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was opposed in principle to the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap. But his willingness to make an unsavory deal in the end highlights his pragmatism.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s deal with Hamas to swap 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to free Sgt. Gilad Shalit from imprisonment in Gaza highlights the Israeli leader’s frequently overlooked pragmatism.Skip to next paragraph
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Even amid images of Hamas’ victory celebrations in Gaza and the risk of releasing militants serving terms for terrorist attacks, the Israeli leader broke with his no-compromise approach to terrorism by siding with Israeli public sentiment that is overwhelmingly sympathetic with Shalit’s plight.
"There’s no avoiding the dissonance. This is a violation of principles that he laid out and helped establish him as a public figure: You don’t surrender to terrorist blackmail," says Yossi Klein Halevy, a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. "Netanyahu has deeply held principles, but in the end he is a pragmatist. And he has proven that again and again even though the world doesn’t give him credit for it."
As the Israeli media hailed the news of Shalit’s release, the head of the Shin Bet security agency, Yoram Cohen, told journalists that although the deal could encourage new attacks and strengthen Hamas at the expense of moderates, it was the minimum price Israel could expect to pay to bring Shalit home.
'The deal of Netanyahu's life'
During his first term in office in the 1990s, Mr. Netanyahu implemented West Bank withdrawals under the Oslo Accords that he had disparaged as a opposition leader, and even shook hands with long-time Palestinian guerrilla fighter Yasser Arafat, who had abandoned violent rhetoric and began seeking a peace deal with Israel. At the beginning of his second term as prime minister in 2009, Netanyahu broke with the ideological hard-liners in his decision to support the creation of a Palestinian state and back a moratorium on new settlement houses in the West Bank.
But in the past year, that trait has been obscured by his decision to renew settlement building, a move which focused blame on him for the breakdown of peace talks. More recently, he was criticized for hurting Israel’s strategic position by refusing to apologize to Turkey for a naval raid that killed nine Turkish activists on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla last year.