Gilad Shalit and the end of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process

Tony Karon writes: As momentous as Tuesday’s release of Sergeant Gilad Shalit and 477 Palestinian prisoners (with another 550 to freed within two months) may be, it is unlikely to be a game-changer — or a milestone on the road to peace. Indeed, while the spectacle of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu breaking the ostensible taboo on negotiating with Hamas and heeding many of its demands in order to bring home the captive Israeli soldier may look like a sea-change, it’s more likely to reinforce the stalemate in the wider conflict — and possibly even raise the danger of a new hostilities.

Despite the fervent opposition of some Israelis — from families of terror victims to prominent cabinet members — to freeing men with Israeli blood on their hands, Netanyahu’s decision remains a popular one. A poll conducted by the daily Yediot Ahronot published Monday showed that 79% of Israelis support the deal, reconciling themselves to paying a bitter price for bringing home the soldier captured, at age 19, more than five years ago. Still, it should come as no surprise in the months ahead if an Israeli government forced into what it will see as a humiliating agreement seeks to restore its self-image of resolute toughness by dealing harshly with future challenges. And the fact that Netanyahu’s climb-down on Shalit has been accompanied by the announcement of new settlement construction on occupied land underscores the sense that Israel’s hawkish government has no intention of making the compromises necessary to bring President Mahmoud Abbas back to the table. Abbas, after all, holds no Israeli captives, and may not have much else Netanyahu believes he needs right now.

Indeed, the Shalit agreement has been something of a setback for Abbas. Hamas’ achievement in freeing some of the thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli prison is a more tangible gain, in Palestinian eyes, than the hypothetical statehood amid continued occupation being pursued by Abbas at United Nations. Palestinian society doesn’t regard these men and women as criminals, but rather fighters in the national cause — a peace agreement with the Palestinians would ultimately require the release of all Palestinians who remain in Israeli custody, even if convicted of acts of terrorism.

But no such painful moment of reckoning is in the offing, of course, because neither side harbors any hope of negotiating an end to the conflict any time soon. The recent speeches at the United Nations by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underscored the vast gulf between the two sides, and only the most Pollyanna-ish of Western diplomats expect anything significant to come from the current effort by the U.S. and its “Quartet” allies to restart direct talks as an alternative to Abbas’ U.N. effort. Abbas has made clear that even if he agrees to meet Israeli leaders, he won’t drop the U.N. bid — which, after all, is what forced the Obama Administration to address the issue with greater urgency.

Michael Warschawski at the Alternative Information Center, writes: For the thousands of Palestinian families who will soon meet their loved ones I’m happy, and for the Shalit family I’m also happy. However, beyond happiness over the release, there exists no symmetry: The Palestinian political prisoners, women and men, who will be freed are all freedom fighters who fulfilled their political and moral duty in the struggle against the Israeli colonial occupation. Gilad Shalit, on the other hand, was a soldier, and a soldier in Israel’s colonial occupation army which violates international law on a daily basis and regularly commits war crimes. As was done by hundreds of Israelis before him, Shalit should have refused to take part in this war, which he did not do.

Those in Israel dubbed the “kidnappers” of Gilad Shalit actually took a prisoner of war and according to all testimonies at our disposal, he was treated as such. The Palestinian political prisoners, on the other hand, do not even dare dream of receiving treatment similar to that received by Shalit.

Just as an injured soldier is not left on the battlefield, the state is obligated to do everything in its power to return its prisoners of war, whatever the price may be. There is no “particularly special Jewish humanism” here, as related by the Israeli media, which is nourished by the office of Benjamin Netanyahu, but a regular and accepted act in a situation of war. What is not usual, and is in fact scandalous, is the intentional foot-dragging which characterized the governments responsible for the Shalit file. The agreement reached with the assistance of the German negotiator and the Egyptian and Turkish governments was closed already three years ago, but the Israeli government chose to ignore it and fantasise about a commando operation, which undoubtedly would have resulted in the death of the soldier.

It is easy to assume that if a child of Netanyhu or Lieberman was in captivity, the government would have moved must faster and accepted the agreement placed on its table. No! The government did not demonstrate any “Jewish humanism” but actually a true lack of humanity. Only the quiet determination of the Shalit family and their public support moved this immoral and heartless government.

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