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Terrorism & Security

With Gilad Shalit prisoner swap done, Israelis and Palestinians debate its impact

Now that Gilad Shalit is back in Israel and the Palestinian prisoners have been released, Israelis weigh the potential cost of the deal and Palestinians examine how it shifts the Hamas-Fatah split.

By Staff writer / October 18, 2011

Palestinian children wave their national flags as they push a mock prison at the Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut, to celebrate the release of Palestinian prisoners in a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel on Tuesday.

Sharif Karim/Reuters

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An intricate prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas is mostly finished, with Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit back on Israeli soil after five years in captivity by Hamas and most of the 477 Palestinian prisoners scheduled to be released today now in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip.

The dual release has been contested on both sides – by Palestinians angry that Hamas did not secure the freedom of some high-profile prisoners, and by Israelis who are fearful and also angry about the release of people responsible for the deaths of Israelis in terrorist attacks. Regional media have been flooded with opinion pieces picking apart the deal and explaining what it means for the future of the two populations.

Despite their fears, 79 percent of Israelis supported the deal, according to a poll by the Dahaf Institute. And 50 percent of respondents said they were worried about the security situation, The Jerusalem Post reports.

The left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz, whose opinion pages are typically critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, mostly carried op-eds and columns heralding the deal, though acknowledging the security concerns. Bradley Burston, among the most vocal of Netanyahu's critics in the press, wrote of the deal in glowing terms, saying that it showed the kind of convictions that have been lacking in recent years.

On the face of it, the exchange is preposterous, in some ways, borderline suicidal. … The deal to bring Gilad Shalit back to his family is painful to Israelis bereaved by terror. It is, by any measure, chillingly dangerous.

And it was the right thing to do.

The deal is a remnant of an Israel which is fast disappearing. It is a remnant of a particular brand of quiet, exceptional courage. It is an expression of a national character that goes generally ignored in a media environment which prizes the extreme over the honorable. It is evidence of a people true to values which time and sectarian agendas may appear to have diluted and erased.

The deal for Gilad Shalit is a remnant of a promised land that – to those everyday people who donate their very youth, their very lives, in order to defend it – still believes it important to keep its promises.

Awareness that the deal is "chillingly dangerous" is articulated many times over in the Israeli media. In a column for the right-leaning Jerusalem Post, Isi Liebler writes that typically tough Israel has once again revealed its "Achilles' heel" and emboldened voices for extremism – and that the practice of releasing hundreds or thousands of Palestinians in exchange for a handful of Israelis is admirable, but unsustainable.

In such an environment the government must gird itself for the future. We must never again permit the deliverance of one Israeli – either soldier or citizen – to jeopardize our national security.

We must recognize that the concept that “we must pay any price” is unsustainable. A state under siege must not allow itself to be subjected to blackmail and extortion by terrorists.

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