Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, strongly defends last week’s swap of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who had been held five years by the Hamas movement.
If young people in Israel, especially those serving in the Army, were asked “whether the Gilad Shalit issue weakened or strengthened the state of Israel, they would say strengthened it," Mr. Oren said Tuesday at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters.
Oren served in the Israel Army, as did all of his three grown children. He argued that the trade which secured Shalit’s release “goes to the heart of Israeli society, the relationship between the state of Israel and the army of Israel.”
In Oren’s view, there is an unwritten social contract between the two. He summarized it by saying, “We the people of Israel go out and fight the battles that you the government send us to, with the understanding that should anything, God forbid, happen to us, if we fall captive or worse, the state will do everything in its power to secure our release. It is on that basis that we go to battle that we send our kids out to defend us.”
As Monitor staff writer Ariel Zirulnick reported Monday, the euphoria accompanying Shalit’s release has given way to concern in some quarters in Israel. One issue is whether the deal makes huge prisoner exchanges for a single Israeli soldier the norm rather than the exception. A second concern is that the deal, made through an intermediary with the militant Hamas organization, had the effect of weakening the more moderate Palestinian Authority.
Oren acknowledged the dangers of such swaps. “Now you can’t say it is without risk,” he said. One concern is that “Hamas is going to redouble its efforts to try and kidnap Israeli soldiers,” Oren said. He noted that was something the group that controls Gaza has tried “practically on a weekly basis.”
In a related matter, on Tuesday, Israel's Security Cabinet approved a plan to exchange 25 Egyptian prisoners for Ilan Grapel who holds dual US and Israeli citizenship and was arrested in Egypt June 12 on suspicion of espionage. Mr. Grapel, a law student from Atlanta was in Egypt volunteering with a legal aid group. Oren strongly denied that Grapel was a spy. He said the effort to secure Mr. Grapel’s release involved “a different dynamic entirely” than the Shalit matter.
“Egypt is a friendly state,” Oren said, noting that there was been a peace treaty between the two nations for 35 years.
“We were able to talk directly to the Egyptians. We never talked directly with Hamas, it was mediated. We are confident that we will move on to with our relationship with Egypt," he said.
Material from the Associated Press was used in compiling this report.