Ironically Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister who has been characterized as the most inflexible with the Palestinians, included in the lot of prisoners to be released a number of terrorist who actively took part in the murder of Israelis. The cases I remember right now are: the people who killed and dismembered the two Israeli reservists who wandered by mistake into Ramallah in 2000, the mastermind behind the Passover massacre, the driver of the Sbarro Pizzeria attack, etc.
By Israeli law, whenever a prisoners' exchange is about to take place, the government must post the list of prisoners publicly 48 hours before the swap, and every sraeli citizen has the right to challenge the list or any name on it. All appeals filed by Israeli citizens with the Supreme Court challenging some names in the list of prisoners, were dismissed by the Court.
Israelis are on one hand happy to see Shalit back, but outraged at how far Netanyahu went. My personal opinion is that Netanyahu, faced with social protests involving close to 10% of all Israelis, decided to do something dramatic to recover his popularity and save his political life. Ironically, it is what he chose to include in order to sweeten the deal what might put his political career on the line. I consider the move cynical and opportunist, in spite of the joy I feel for the Shalit family.
I believe that Netanyahu signed his own political death sentence, and yet I cannot think of anybody in a position to take over right now...a very sad turn of events. He will probably try to come up with some face-saving declaration or shift the National debate to the Social Reform based on Trajtenberg’s Report.
What he will not be able to do is to restore Israel's deterrence power with Hamas. Hamas leaders, including Masha'al in Damascus, are already bragging that the "returning heroes will go back into the fight", and Haniyeh announced that "today we free the prisoners, tomorrow Al-Aqsa". While it would be tempting to believe that all this bragging is just empty talk, Hamas' track record in the past makes that highly unlikely. When they say they will try to kill you, they will, and when they say that they will kidnap more soldiers to free the remaining prisoners - they mean it. Whoever dismiss their words as bravado, does so at his/her own risk.
Without deterrence, Israel is exposed not only to Hamas' actions but also very likely of Hezbollah, the other Iranian backed movement. Not only that, but the deal weakens the PLO administration in the West Bank at the expense of Hamas, making the possibility of a dialogue even more remote (as if that were possible these days).
Shalit's release might even go down in history as a classical Jewish Holiday...mixing the joy of the celebration with the sadness of what was necessary to achieve it. Summing it up, I don't know what to believe or how to feel, beyond being absolutely certain that in the Middle East, every day is easier than the next...and this deal doesn't help the big picture.
Having said all that, let me add..."Welcome Home, Gilad"