To begin with, let me clarify that from my perspective, the fact that Gilad Shalit will finally be reunited with his family is an unqualified good thing. After five years of captivity and God knows what kinds of physical and psychological abuse, Gilad is coming home to his family and his friends, and an Israeli society that became obsessed with his fate and identified with him, because each soldier in Israel is somebody's brother or husband or child, and every family in Israel has somebody in the army. Israel's army is a citizen's army, so the fate of every soldier resonates greatly in the collective conscious.
Having said that, reactions are varied. Let us start with the Israeli side. Not a few commentators on Israeli papers pointed out the coincidence that this deal was reached in the wake of serious demonstrations against Netanyahu's social policies; demonstrations that demanded a move to social Justice; it was also announced on the same day that the Cabinet overwhelmingly approved the Trajtenberg Report for Social reform. There is no doubt that the timing of both announcements was politically motivated to boost PM Netanyahu's public image.
Secondly, there is the issue of the lopsided deal. One thousand twenty seven Palestinian prisoners are being eschange for one Gilad Shalit. While Israel does have a history of lopsided deals like this under both, Labor as well as Likkud governments, the difference this time is that approximately 300 of the exchanged prisoners are in the category that Israel previously considered "off limits" to these exchanges: terrorist with Jewish blood in their hands - people who actually murdered Israeli citizens. The inclusion of these prisoners is making many in Israel very uneasy. Voices are rising cautioning that this particular deal is undermining Israel's deterrence power and handing Hamas a political victory not only against Israel but also against their West Bank rival, Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas).
Most in Israel remain silent, because in Israel questioning a deal to bring back a soldier is to some extent a social tabu. Add to this the collective memory of the Israeli pilot Ron Arad, whose fate is unknown to this day, and the death of Sgt Wexler along with one of the commandos sent to rescue him in Southern Lebanon, and most Israelis will tell you that in spite of being a bitter pill, the government didn't have much choice.
Then there is the Palestinian side. In the Palestinian street, the uncompromising and confrontational speech given by Mahmoud Abbas at the UN boosted his public image and weakened that of Hamas, thus positioning the PLO ina better place to negotiate with Hamas in the so-called "Unity talks" so dear to Abu Mazen. The deal has a direct impact on this situation.
In the Arab street in Gaza, many see the deal as a victory of Hamas over Israel, boosting their popularity. In the West Bank is seen as an Israeli move to undermine Abbas, and is therefore increasing opposition to any dialogue with Israel. Mashaal, from his Damascus headquarters, announced already that the terrorist to be freed in this agreement "will return to the fight" immediately. The net result is that Palestinian society feels they now have the upper hand and they are convinced that they can force Israel to further concessions - as usual, their perception is false and the product of their own overactive imagination and agrandized self-perception. That doesn't change the fact that their perceptions define their actions. Violence will be more likely after this deal than it was before it, and dialogue less likely than it was; it is a setback for the Peace Process and a boost for those who promote confrontation.
And yet Gilad is coming home and that is a reason to rejoice. The Rabbis of old said in the Talmud that since God created only one original couple of Human beings, and we are all their descendants (B'nei Adam - the Children of Adam), the killing of one person is the same as killing all of Humanity; but the saving of one person is the same as saving the world.
So in spite of all the misgivings and doubts (some of which I fully share), I can only conclude this blog by saying "Welcome Home, Gilad, Welcome Home"
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