MANY ISRAELIS, and many friends of Israel in the West, think there is something to be admired in thelopsided deal that will free more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners -- including hundreds of terrorists serving life sentences for murder -- in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier abducted by Hamas in 2006 and held virtually incommunicado ever since.
According to an opinion poll published Monday, 79 percent of the Israeli public approves of the swap, with only 14 percent opposed. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuannounced the agreement last week, he described it as evidence that "the nation of Israel is a unique people; we are all mutually responsible for each other." In an editorial, The Wall Street Journal echoed a popular opinion when it explained Israel's willingness to pay such a steep price for Shalit's freedom as "a testament to its national and religious values, which stress the obligation to redeem captives."
Israel is famous for its ironclad commitment never to abandon its captured or fallen soldiers. In a country where nearly every family has loved ones in uniform, the anguish of the Shalits -- whose son was just 19 when Hamas gunmen crossed the border from Gaza and grabbed him -- was a nightmare with which all Israelis could empathize. Across Israel's often volatile political spectrum, the longing for Shalit's return was universal and heartfelt.
But this is not the way to bring him home.
According to the deal Netanyahu has accepted, Hamas is to release Shalit today; simultaneously Israel will release a first wave of 477 Palestinian prisoners. A second, even larger group, will be freed in two months.