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.
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Despite its concessions on prisoners, that Hamas was able to force Israel to negotiate with the militant group and secure a deal is being viewed as vindication for the group and a blow to the Palestinian Authority, Fatah, and PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who until recently was riding a large wave of support for his bid for United Nations membership. National heroes – 500,000 Gazans are expected at the rally in Gaza City to welcome prisoners home, according to Haaretz – will trump an ambiguous diplomatic success, writes Tony Karon in Time.Skip to next paragraph
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Hamas' achievement in freeing some of the thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli prison is a more tangible gain, in Palestinian eyes, than the hypothetical statehood amid continued occupation being pursued by Abbas at United Nations. Palestinian society doesn't regard these men and women as criminals, but rather fighters in the national cause – a peace agreement with the Palestinians would ultimately require the release of all Palestinians who remain in Israeli custody, even if convicted of acts of terrorism.
Hamas is aware it has hit on a strategy that could work again. On Monday, the group's West Bank leader, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, told Haaretz that the remaining prisoners being held by Israel provide an incentive to kidnap again. More than 4,000 Palestinians remain in Israeli prisons.
"I don't know whether more soldiers will be abducted," he told Haaretz. "But so long as Palestinian prisoners continue to suffer in prisons, there will be an incentive to free them via any available means. I urge the government of Israel to release the prisoners in order to put an end to this whole issue. This is an issue that creates considerable tension."
The Palestinian Authority is concerned about the possibility outlined by Mr. Yousef, and of armed resistance becoming the default strategy – a strategy that President Abbas and his government have forsworn, Tom Perry writes in an analysis for Reuters published on the website for Palestinian news agency Maan.
Privately, even Abbas' allies are concerned that the swap boosts the "logic of resistance" – or armed struggle against Israel – at the expense of his non-violent strategy built on negotiations and, most recently, the diplomatic thrust for wider recognition of statehood.
"This deal has definitely improved the public position of Hamas and the perception of resistance," said one member of the Abbas administration. "The success of this deal sends the wrong message to the public."
[Lebanese militant group Hezbollah] said the deal had "toppled once and for all the delusions of those who believe in the possibility of progress or the recovery of rights through negotiations or petitioning the international community".