Hamas values its terrorists: More than 1,000 of them for Gilad Shalit

Gilad Shalit's release will be a "victory for Israeli solidarity", but with around one-thousand terrorists heading the other way, at what cost?

Gilad Shalit has become a figurehead of Israeli solidarity.
Petra Marquardt-Bigman
On 12 October 2011 08:59

After more than five years as a hostage of Hamas, the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit will reportedly soon be released in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian terrorists held in Israeli jails.

Most Israelis will wholeheartedly agree with the view expressed by Ha’aretz columnist Ari Shavit who described this lopsided deal as “a victory for old-fashioned Israeli solidarity”.

It may not be an exaggeration to say that it is ultimately this sense of solidarity that has enabled Israel to survive in a violent and hostile neighborhood. At the same time, it is of course precisely this solidarity that provides the rationale for the kidnapping of Israelis by terrorist groups like Hamas.

Nobody in Israel is under any illusions about Hamas’s intentions and plans to kidnap more Israelis. It is also clear that Hamas would pursue such plans even if Israel had not agreed to any exchange to secure the release of Gilad Shalit.

Criticizing the deal on the grounds that it encourages future kidnappings is therefore hardly convincing.

Yet, there are concerns that cannot be easily dismissed.

Given the staggering number of terrorists that will be released and the fact that terrorists freed in previous deals have often returned to terrorism, it is obviously very problematic that hundreds of convicted terrorists will now be allowed to return to their homes.

In the past few years, Israeli and Western-trained Palestinian security services have successfully cooperated to dramatically reduce terrorist activity in the West Bank territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA). This achievement may now be undermined.

Further complications are to be expected since this development comes at a time when the PA is engaged in a determined effort to secure the backing of the United Nations for a unilateral declaration of statehood that would legitimize a Palestinian state without requiring a peace agreement with Israel.

The prospects for current international efforts to convince Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to abandon his three-year boycott of peace negotiations will hardly be boosted in an atmosphere dominated by celebrations over the release of some 1,000 terrorists – many of them convicted killers – who will be feted as national idols.

However, the glorification of terrorism that is to be expected for the next few weeks does not necessarily signify a decisive change.

Among the many examples that could be cited in this context is the fact that last month, the "moderate" PA chose the mother of four convicted terrorist murderers as the head of a delegation that carried the Palestinian statehood application to the UN offices in Ramallah.  

Perhaps the most important question about the implications of the deal that was struck to secure the release of Gilad Shalit concerns the prominent Fatah strongman and former Tanzim militia commander Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five consecutive life sentences for his role in several murderous terror attacks.

If initial reports prove true and Barghouti is indeed among the terrorists who will be released now, he will certainly pursue his ambitions to run for the presidency in future Palestinian elections and his political outlook will likely be shaped by his view “that Hamas’ demands cannot be ignored.”

And so the emotions attached to this news story are perhaps as predictable as they are polarised.

On the one hand, the sense of relief for Shalit himself is palpable.

Yet on the other, there is the unmistakable anxiety which stems from the knowledge that the very sense of national solidarity that produced, and will be enhanced by, his impending release may yet be exploited in the months and years ahead. 

Petra Marquardt-Bigman is an Israel-based freelance writer and researcher with a Ph.D. in contemporary history. She blogs at the Jerusalem Post 

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