Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

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.

(Page 2 of 3)

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.

Skip to next paragraph

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.

In an article headlined "the deal of Netanyahu’s life," Yossi Verter, a columnist in the liberal Haaretz newspaper said the decision was the most important of his current term.

"He hasn’t embarked on war. He hasn’t made peace," he wrote. "It is often said that Netanyahu is more a politician of speeches and words, and less of deeds. This time Netanyahu behaved like a leader."

The Israeli leader’s credentials as counterterrorist crusader go back to the killing of his older brother Yonatan during the 1976 Entebbe Operation to release Israeli hostages from a plan hijacked to Uganda. After entering politics he authored a book titled "Fighting Terrorism.’’

His agreement to the Shalit prisoner swap reflects widespread Israeli support for paying a high price for the freedom of POWs as a means of keeping morale high among foot soldiers in the country’s citizen army and their families.

Shalit campaign

That sentiment was symbolized Noam Shalit, Gilad's father, who together with his wife, Aviva, led a 10,000-person march across Israel in June 2010 and camped out on the sidewalk, swearing not to leave until their son came home. After the deal was announced last night, 300 revelers danced, shouted, honked, and prayed in the street to herald Shalit’s return and hear his parents’ exhausted victory speeches.

After months of publicly berating Netanyahu for not finalizing the deal, Noam Shalit today praised the prime minister for a "courageous decision."


Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story