Israel is a young country, and not only in terms of its own lifespan. More than 27 percent of its citizens are aged 0-14, and that group is growing. Which means it’s safe to estimate that roughly one in ten Israelis has never been alive during a time that Gilad Shalit, himself only 25, was a free man. That changes tomorrow. Or such, anyway, is the plan.
And quite a plan: Haaretz reports there will be 11 phases, a series of preordained moves in which the several sides (the Israelis, Hamas, the Egyptians) take various steps to reassure the others that they will follow through on their ends of a bargain that will ultimately see over 1,000 prisoners go free. For example, Israel releases a few dozen female prisoners; then Shalit is transferred, via the Rafah crossing, from Gaza to Egypt, only at which point will Israel begin releasing some of its male prisoners. (Upon transfer from Egypt to Israel, Shalit “will be given his old cell phone in order to telephone his mother.”) Prime Minister Netanyahu is playing an extensive, symbolic role in the latter part of the proceedings. After all, this was his decision, and his to own—for better and for worse. He was reportedly difficult to persuade throughout, right back to when chief negotiator (and former Mossad official) David Meidan first made informal contacts with Hamas.
It was not hard to see why Netanyahu, or any Israeli, might hesitate to make this deal, and the disclosure of the names of nearly 500—almost half—of the Palestinian prisoners whom Israel will release makes it even less hard. “These are not just prisoners with ‘blood on their hands,’” Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff (who wrote about the Shalit situation for Tablet Magazine) report. “Rather, the list includes some of the founders of the Hamas military wing, such as Zaher Jabarin and Yihya Sanawar, and prisoners involved in some of the most ignoble terror attacks in Israel, including the 1989 attack on bus 405 and the 1994 abduction of Israel Defense Forces soldier Nachshon Wachsman.” And the people behind the 2001 Tel Aviv night club attack. And the 2001 bombing of the Jerusalem Sbarro. And the Passover massacre at Netanya in 2002 (for me, the always-remember-where-I-was moment of the Second Intifada). More names, and the crimes they committed, are listed here.
It is therefore unsurprising that the deal has not been greeted with unanimous approval. Three cabinet members—Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the Yisrael Beiteinu head; Uzi Landau, the infrastructure minister, also of YB; and Moshe Ya’alon, of Netanyahu’s own Likud—voted against the deal outright. Interior Minister Eli Yishai, head of Shas, suggested freeing certain Jewish terrorists as part of the deal for the sake of “balances.” And speaking of: one entrepreneurial soul, an Israeli Jew who claimed he was related to terrorist victims, vandalized Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s grave in protest (click for ugly, important picture). Victims’ families have the opportunity to petition the High Court to overturn releases, but the court is expected to stare the government’s decisis on this one. In a touching article, the Times’ Ethan Bronner reports on two families of victims of prisoners who will be released—one of which opposes the deal, the other of which supports it. Two Jews, two opinions. (A new poll suggests that 79 percent of Israelis support the exchange.)
Is it a gift to terrorists? Plainly. Is it massively, just gargantuan-like, lopsided? Inarguably. The only consolation to be taken is that some of the terrorists Hamas has wanted these past five-plus years were not included (and nor is Marwan Barghouti, although he is a special case: it is far too complicated to try to parse whether Israel should truly wish him jailed, or Hamas truly wish him freed). It’s not even clear that Hamas will honor elements of the deal barring the return to the territories of some prisoners, who are being deported upon their releases. Is it going to lead to further kidnappings of Israeli soldiers in exchange for further prisoners? Well, why wouldn’t it? This is what happens when you literally negotiate with terrorists.
Meanwhile, is Israel getting much in return besides Shalit? Freeing Israeli-American Ilan Grapel will require more Israeli prisoners released. Turkey claims it aided the mediation, but Egypt disputes it, and certainly the deal is not suddenly going to repair Israeli-Turkish relations. Aaron David Miller is quite correct when he notes that this will have no effect on the peace process—in fact, in empowering Hamas and marginalizing the Palestinian Authority, it’s pretty sure to hurt it (further).
If the deal seems totally bewildering to non-Israeli readers, well, maybe it’s simply bewildering. Or maybe we don’t understand what it means to live in a society where one soldier can be everyone’s son, and everyone’s son can provide a reason for staying together, and engineering a major strategic defeat is worth it so that none of your citizens can claim they were never alive at a time that Gilad Shalit was a free man.
Shalit Swap: The Step-by-Step Guide [Haaretz]
Behind the Scenes of the Shalit Deal [Ynet]
Israel Releases Names of 477 Prisoners to be Freed in Trade [NYT]
In Shalit Deal, Israel Crossed Its Own Red Lines [Haaretz]
A Yearning for Solidarity Tangles Public Life [NYT]
Related: News of a Kidnapping [Tablet Magazine]
Everyone’s Son [Tablet Magazine]