Will Israel Release Prisoners for a Soldier's Life?

This article is from the archive of our partner .

The Israeli government may soon release a number of imprisoned Palestinian leaders in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a young, kidnapped Israeli soldier. Then again, maybe not--Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stressed that there is no deal yet, while German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, who is helping to mediate between the talks, says the negotiations are fragile. A release of prisoners is always cause for debate, but the reported media embargo the case has ramped up the attention. If it comes through, what could the deal mean for Israel-Palestine relations?

  • Breakthrough?  The New Republic's Michael Cowley suggests the reports "support ... the recent claim that the two sides have been secretly talking," and "could be a minor breakthrough in the intractable Gaza standoff."
  • President Shimon Peres Is an Idiot  Cowley's colleague Marty Peretz instead focuses on how the case has highlighted the incompetence of Israeli president Shimon Peres:
No sooner had the Israeli ministry of defense released a statement--actually a plea for silence!--saying that speculation about the coming quick release of Gilad Shalit "does not help" than Peres announced in Cairo, no less, that the captive soldier was about to be freed. This is characteristic of this blabber-mouth who cannot make do with shutting up on public policy, which is essential to the definition of his job, and stick to symbolics, which are also essential to his job.
  • No Giving In  At the Israel Matzav blog, Carl in Jerusalem questions the decision to release prisoners for Shalit's freedom, and points out that this not merely a matter of exchanging custody: "there ought to be a demonstration outside the Shalits' home every time one of these released terrorists is involved in another terror attack," he writes, noting that "precedent indicates" these attacks will come. "The real question here is how many Israeli civilians - how many Israeli children - will die (God forbid) to bring Gilad Shalit home." Elsewhere, he wonders how long it will be until another kidnapping, since this one has turned out to be so profitable for those involved.
  • Highly Controversial--Hence the Blackout  The editors of Haaretz suggest that it is to prevent precisely this "chorus of naysayers" that the government has imposed a media embargo. Still, they argue, the "potential damage caused by secrecy is great." They would like to see more public debate about this willingness "to set free even the most heinous of murderers to end Shalit's suffering."
  • This Deal Could Be Good  Blogger Richard Silverstein takes a different view. He points out that the "most respected Palestinian political leader" Marwan Barghouti" may be one of the prisoners being discussed, and that, with "his role and stature ... roughly akin to that of Nelson Mandela in apartheid era South Africa ... it becomes important to speculate how this might change the Palestinian political landscape." He thinks the change may be for the better. He also argues that this media blackout indicates, if anything, the seriousness of the negotiations. Previous rumors of a deal have proven unsubstantiated, but with this embargo, "the only thing Israeli media can do is speculate about the matter.  They can't report on what any minister or intelligence officer or IDF commander might have to say.  This is unprecedented in Israeli history as Haaretz notes." He thinks it suggests a real possibility of a deal, and a recognition on the part of Israeli officials of the fragility of negotiations.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.