In diplomacy, symbolism and timing are everything. So we think it’s probably significant that this morning, just as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators arrived in Washington for a new round of meetings with their American interlocutor, George Mitchell, about re-launching substantive peace talks, officials in Jerusalem announced that they had reached a deal with Hamas to trade 20 female Palestinian prisoners for video evidence that Gilad Shalit is still alive.
Shalit is the 23-year-old IDF corporal held hostage by Hamas since 2006; he has not been heard from since the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in January, despite efforts by the International Red Cross and other agencies to win humanitarian access. The bargain is actually the fruit of a joint Egyptian and German initiative intended to smooth final negotiations about Shalit’s actual release—in other words, it, too, is a negotiation about a negotiation. The trade is expected to be made on Friday, but Israeli President Shimon Peres warned not to get expectations up: “The road to his release is still long and not simple, and we do not want to create any illusions.” Washington, are you listening?