The deal between Hamas and Israel to exchange 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for the captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit has not yet fallen through and there is unquestionably a lot of information that has not yet, or will never, become public knowledge. Yet after reading this:
For Israelis, the overriding message is that their government will go to extraordinary lengths to bring the country’s soldiers back home. This is critical to maintaining the morale of an army manned by conscripts and reservists drawn from most segments of the nation’s population, other than Arab Israelis. It is even more essential if the army is to remain one of the few venerated institutions in Israeli society.
Nonetheless, for a prime minister who wrote a book arguing for an uncompromising approach to terrorism, this is a heavy price to pay. It signals that Israel will indeed negotiate, albeit under duress, for hostages and with an organization that most of the world regards as terrorists.
by Robert Danin, I have to wonder why this deal was not made earlier. Deals for the release of Shalit have fallen through in the past, but from all accounts, Netanyahu has agreed to release some high level prisoners that previous governments had refused to consider. Of course, there is a considerable amount of pressure on the Israeli Prime Minister from the families of those killed in Palestinian attacks not to negotiate with Hamas and this has played a major role in the delay of a deal (along with Netanyahu’s book that Danin mentions.) Moreover, perhaps negotiations were put on hold as the Egyptian moderating team was undoubtedly focused on domestic matters for most of the year, but why not last year or the year before?
Presumably, Hamas has been pushing for a deal – Shalit is only valuable for the group in a prisoner exchange (albeit he is a symbol of the resistance). Why did the Israeli government decide to back down on some of the names demanded by Hamas now?
In related news, Israel has decided to apologize to Egypt for the deaths of six Egyptian policemen, killed by Israeli soldiers in the Sinai earlier this year. Obviously, this is quite different than Israel’s refusal to apologize for the death of nine Turkish activists on the Mavi Marmara – a refusal that directly led to the deterioration of relations between the two countries. Both Egypt and Turkey are strategically important for Israel, yet Israel only apologizes to one. There were reports that Netanyahu was about to apologize, but held back after coming under pressure from the foreign minister.
Both of these moves signify minor, yet important shifts in Israeli policy, but does this mean anything? Does it show an Israeli government that is belatedly reacting to its own self-isolation? Or is there something bigger afoot?
Photo from Pyramidion