Is the Israeli Prisoner Exchange Deal Worth All the Risks?

Daniel Doherty

10/13/2011 5:15:00 PM - Daniel Doherty

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced to the world that a deal had been brokered between Israel and the militant Islamist group Hamas to release Sergeant Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier currently imprisoned in the Gaza Strip. Shalit, who has languished in prison since his abduction by Hamas terrorists more than five years ago, is scheduled to be discharged sometime next week. The peaceful settlement, however, will not come without conflicting interests. The Israeli government, in exchange for Shalit, must now liberate over a thousand Palestinian prisoners. The news -- which has been enthusiastically embraced by the Israeli public and sanctioned by Netanyahu’s Cabinet by a majority vote of 26-3 -- is a momentous occasion for countless Israelis who have worked assiduously to safeguard his release since 2006. The Washington Post reports:

 

The Israeli Justice Ministry said Wednesday that a list of 477 prisoners to be released in the first stage of the swap will be published on the Israel Prison Service’s Web site on Sunday.
“As we have done in the past, we intend to give the public a period of at least 48 hours from the moment of the publication of the list of prisoners to submit reservations or opposition to this or that release,” the ministry said in a statement.

A ministry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the matter said that the list was not finalized and added, “The earliest the swap will take place is Tuesday or Wednesday next week.”

 

Yet, despite Israel’s generous concessions, Palestinians continue to voice their opposition to the arrangement.

 

Some Palestinians criticized Hamas on Thursday for conceding too much in its deal to swap a captured Israeli soldier for more than a thousand Palestinian inmates.

Much of the criticism has come from officials who are loyal to Fatah, Hamas' bitter rival for control over the Palestinians. Yet it appears to reflect a deeper unease over whether the price Palestinians paid for Schalit's capture was too high. Critics of the deal are disappointed that some of the most prominent prisoners will not be released and that hundreds may be deported or not allowed to return to their homes.

 

In Israel, as expected, the agreement has not been embraced with unanimous support. The families of victims of terror, for example, fervidly oppose the prisoner exchanges because as many as three hundred Palestinians -- who will now be released next week -- were incarcerated for fomenting bloodshed and murdering Israelis. Indeed, while a substantial number of Palestinian prisoners face deportation -- and will not be able to return to Gaza, the West Bank, or East Jerusalem -- there is still a genuine concern that these criminals, after securing their freedom, will incite violence and stir up anti-Israeli sentiment in the Middle East. But the regional turmoil, which has been a catalyst for speeding up the negotiations, compelled the Israeli government to reach a peaceful settlement before senior Hamas officials terminated the discussions and rescinded their offer.

But one important question remains: Did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Cabinet make the right diplomatic decision -- or will they put Israel more at risk by unleashing hundreds of convicted terrorists into the world?

What do you think? I welcome your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below.