One Israeli worth 1000 Palestinians; a swap of equal value?
Hamas releases names of prisoners to be freed
BETHLEHEM — Hamas-affiliated website al-Aqsa posted a list of prisoners it said were due to be released in coming days as part of the prisoner swap with Israel.
Israel and Hamas reached an agreement Tuesday to release over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for an Israeli soldier held by Gaza militants since 2006.
A senior Palestinian official familiar with the deal told Ma’an on Wednesday that 450 prisoners would be released in “10 to 14 days,” and a further 550 detainees will be freed in two months. Israel will choose which prisoners to release in the second phase, the official said.
Some 203 prisoners from the West Bank will not return home: 40 will be exiled outside to other countries and the rest will be sent to Gaza, the official said.
Sources close to the negotiations told Ma’an on Thursday that the prisoners would be freed at the same time as Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and that prisoners who will be sent to the Gaza Strip will be released into Egypt, and will enter Gaza via the Rafah crossing.
The list published on al-Aqsa TV website includes prominent figures including Hamas leader Yehya al-Sinwar and the longest-serving Palestinian prisoner in Israeli jail Nael al-Barghouthi.
The eldest Palestinian detainee Sami Younis, 78, will also be released, the site said.
BETHLEHEM — Palestinian officials on Thursday jousted over the terms of a prisoner exchange deal agreed between Hamas and Israel.
Israel is set to free more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for the release of Israeli solider Gilad Shalit who is captivity in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
But many prominent figures in Israeli jail were left out of the deal, and some 200 of those freed will not be able to return to their homes.
On Thursday, sources close to Hamas told Ma’an that Israel reneged on an agreement to release charismatic Fatah leader Marwan Bargouti “at the last minute.”
Barghouti was part of the release deal “since the beginning of the negotiations,” they insisted, until the final exchange terms were concluded on Tuesday.
PFLP secretary-general Ahmad Saadat and commanders in Hamas’s armed wing Abdullah Barghouthi and Ibrahim Hamed will also remain behind bars.
The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, who analysts say has been sidelined by the deal, said Thursday that it was disappointed that the agreement allowed 40 detainees to be exiled overseas and another 163 sent to Gaza.
In an interview with France 24 television, PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki called into question the timing of the swap, suggesting Hamas and Israel might have collaborated to embarrass the West Bank government.
Long rivals, Hamas and Fatah reached a reconciliation deal in May to end four years of bitter rivalry in which the parties have overseen parallel administrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
As implementation of the agreement remains under discussion months later, the two factions are vying for popular support among Palestinians.
Malki told France 24 the PA is “happy” prisoners will be released, but “very much disappointed” that prisoners from the West Bank will be deported to Gaza, and others abroad.
“We are very much disappointed in this part of the deal because we don’t want to see any Palestinian being deported from his own territory by a decision taken by his own people,” Malki said.
“In this case Hamas has taken a decision to agree on the deportation of so many people outside their homes in the West Bank and outside of their homes in Palestine as a whole,” he said.
Malki said he suspected the long-awaited the deal was designed to steal the limelight of a popular campaign to secure full UN membership, championed by President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas.
“What I want to focus here is on the timing,” he added, alleging that the deal was linked to Abbas’ demand that the United Nations recognize Palestine as a state.
“Of course, when the popularity of President Abbas has been rising that high after his speech in the General Assembly delivering our application, one has to question the timing,” he said.
“Is it really intended to boost the popularity of the Israeli government and Hamas vis-a-vis the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas? That’s a really legitimate question to be asked,” he said.
The prisoners’ release is a hugely popular and emotive issue among Palestinians, with families eagerly awaiting the final list of names of detainees to be freed.
Thousands of Gaza residents rallied in the coastal enclave on Tuesday to celebrate news of the deal.
AFP contributed to this report
The Schalit exchange will see nearly a thousand Palestinian and one Israeli prisoners of conflict go home. But the hostage-exchange practice cannot be allowed to go on. Prisoners should be invited to take an active part in dealings with Israel, and their release should become a part of the diplomatic process
Dimi Reider 972mag
It’s hard to overestimate the significance of the upcoming prisoner exchange. I’m not aware of any abduction or wartime captivity case in recent history that has become as significant to a nation as the plight of Gilad Schalit. He has become the sole point of near-total consensus, with even most active rightists merely disagreeing on the way in which he should be released (former IDF chief military rabbi Avichai Rontski is an ignoble exception to the rule). His ongoing captivity had become a symbol of the weakening trust between citizens, soldiers and the state, of the state’s incompetence, and of the general hopelessness of the conflict. But while Schalit’s impending release is likely to relieve (not cure) some of these rifts, we should ask ourselves what can be done to avert the next hostage situation: If anything, the deal increases, not decreases, the possibility that similar tactics will be used by Hamas or any other paramilitary group in the future.
Although Netanyahu strove hard to present the deal as a result of Hamas buckling down to pressures, he himself has once again provided proof positive that if you want something from Israel, you need to get it by force. From the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon and the eviction of settlements and redeployment of IDF forces around Gaza, to all previous significant prisoner releases, Israel has proved far more susceptible to violence than it ever was to any diplomatic advances. The withdrawal from Lebanon would have been far more advantageous to both Lebanon and Israel if it was negotiated, but even in the unilateral framework, Israel could have released all Lebanese POWs after the withdrawal, sparing itself the nauseating body-snatching exercise by Hezbollah and the sado-masochistic haggling that followed. But the issue of Palestinian prisoners merits more delicate treatment.
Palestinian prisoners sway unparalleled influence in the Palestinian political sphere, both thanks to their sacrifice and, in many cases, to their direct experience of conflict. They are also among the most organised and politically educated subgroups of the Palestinian community, and their influence extends beyond the public sphere into the private workings and structures of the Palestinian paramilitary organisations and political parties. Their experience of imprisonment and involuntarily close contact with the Israeli authorities gives them greater understanding and common language with the occupier than perhaps any other group. It’s therefore doubly strange that this highly potent group is treated by Israel as kettle stock to be counted out and handed out at times of political necessity – as passive political fodder rather than active potential political partners. The prisoners’ release isn’t even normally listed as part of the core issues of negotiations, making it seem like they are likely to remain incarcerated even if some sort of peace should finally arrive.
So long as prisoners are perceived as hostages dependent on militants still-at-large for their rescue, it’s hard to see paramilitaries abandoning the manifestly successful tactic of taking what they see as counter-hostages; Shalit is unlikely to be the last of his kind. But engaging the prisoners as part of the negotiations – if and when genuine negotiations should resume; utilising the prisoners’ mandate and close knowledge of the Israeli side; and putting the issue of prisoner release and prisoner rights on the diplomatic agenda will upset the monopoly of hostage-taking as the Palestinians’ main recourse for securing freedom for the prisoners. Moreover, the prisoners’ new role as a potent and active player in the political arena would likely give Israel second thoughts about its “revolving door” policy – replenishing its “stock” of exchangeable Palestinians as soon as some are released.
It should be noted that all this stands quite apart from the question of guilt or innocence. While five years in solitary confinement is disproportionate to his role, and while his rights as a PoW were indubitably violated by Hamas throughout his captivity, Schalit was no babe snatched from the cradle, but a combatant member of armed forces imposing a blockade. Similarly, while many of the Palestinians set to be released in the swap are either innocent of any crime or have been punished vastly beyond the acts they did commit, many of them are, indeed, responsible for brutal and wanton killing of innocent civilians, sometimes children.
But grudgingly letting them loose under violent pressure does nothing to resolve the conflict in the name of which they did what they did, or to help the families of their victims to cope with the thought that their loved ones are dead while their killers walk free. Making the prisoner issue part and parcel of a peace process – if and when such process should take place – would also allow their release and the issue of guilt and responsibility of Israeli officers responsible for the killing of civilians to be channelled through mechanisms of truth and reconciliation, whether formal ones – like the eponymous committees in South Africa – or informal ones, like the perpetrator and survivor story-telling groups that operate privately in Northern Ireland.
Either way, it’s time to start including the prisoner issue in solutions to the conflict and the prisoners themselves in negotiation processes. Israel missed one such opportunity under Sharon, who famously refused even to read a letter by Palestinian prisoners from all factions offering parameters for negotiations. It shouldn’t miss such an opportunity again; and if it fails to arrive, Israel should itself initiate it.
The 1-for-1,000 deal is probably the most “left-wing” thing Netanyahu’s ever done. The international community will now give him some slack, while the settlers, Lieberman et al will cash in their chits.
Larry Derfner, 972
The deal to release Gilad Schalit was the right decision, and despite my lack of love for Netanyahu, I give him a lot of credit for pushing it through. But it seems to me that Schalit’s release, in addition to being an undeniable security risk for Israelis, is going to give the Right yet another boost, and make relations with the Palestinians even worse, as hard to imagine as that may be.
Freeing 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, including many terrorists who took part in deadly attacks on Israeli civilians, is the most “left-wing” thing Netanyahu has ever done, with the possible exception of the Wye agreement with Arafat in his first term. The right wing – the settlers, Lieberman, Shas, much of Likud – now have some serious chits to cash in. Haaretz reported that during the cabinet debate, Shas leader Eli Yishai pressed for the release of Jewish terrorists from prison. arguing, “It’s the right thing to do as part of the balances in Israel’s society,” and that while it wouldn’t “undo the releasing of hundreds of (Palestinian) prisoners, it may sweeten the bitter pill.”
I don’t know if Netanyahu is going let Jewish terrorists out of jail, and I definitely don’t think the Schalit deal gives him the political capital to bomb Iran, as some have suggested. Nothing would give him that sort of capital; if Israel bombs Iran, we will be going it effectively alone. But the deal does get the world off his back for awhile – the “international community” will give him credit for taking a brave decision, for showing flexibility, for what it may wishfully, mistakenly interpret as a “confidence-building measure” for the Palestinians.
In short, after the Schalit release, the Right will be breathing down Bibi’s neck, while the UN, Europe, etc. will take a couple of steps back. (Still, I hope like hell the release goes through as planned; after five years of negotiations, it’s a matter of in for 95 cents, in for a dollar, especially when, as Netanyahu credibly says, the changes in the Middle East mean the window of opportunity for getting Schalit back could well be closing.)
The worst political outcome of the deal, though, is the weakening, not to say humiliation, of Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, to the great benefit of Hamas. It’s amazing that there are no doubt many Israelis who feel gratified now to be teaching Abbas a lesson after that dirty trick he pulled at the UN. Understanding that Hamas is gaining big time at Abbas’ expense, something that’s not exactly good for the Jews, would require much greater foresight than these Israeli nationalists possess.
And once again, there’s no evading the fact that putting hundreds of Palestinians “with blood on their hands” on the streets, including the streets of the West Bank, poses the risk that Israelis will get killed on account of this deal. If that happens, the “peace index” will sink even lower.
I’m sorry to be such a pessimist. I think the deal for Schalit shows a humanity in Israeli society that’s inspiring to witness. But the political mentality in this country, the attitude toward all those “thems” out there, is something else again – and after this great act of solidarity with Schalit and his family, this heartening display of national sacrifice, I’m afraid the “us vs. them” state of mind around here is going to kick back in. Probably even with something of a vengeance.
By Ebaa Rezeq, Gazanism
Palestinian prisoners -and they are thousands in Israeli jails- started a hunger strike in September27 to express their anger and rejection to the inhumane treatment they have been receiving since the recent instructions by Prime Minister Netanyahu in late June 2011 to strip Palestinian prisoners of claimed “privileges” they “enjoy” in Israeli jails.. For more details: PCHR Condemns Collective Penalties against Palestinian Prisoners in Israeli Jails
Yesterday, I joined Palestinian families of prisoners in their protest in ICRC – Gaza. Many of whom where former prisoners joining in solidarity, members of International Solidarity Movement ISM, and activists who have been hunger striking for 9 days who –overwhelmingly- triggered in me feelings of both shame and embracement when I learned that four of them were hospitalized early that day.
To express their genuine support to prisoners and to rid themselves the feeling of helplessness, Palestinian and international activists and bloggers not only tweeted and blogged to spread the truth but also started a 24-hour #tweepstrike #HS4Palestine ‘Hunger Strike for Palestine’ in October 12 in solidarity and celebration of the fighting spirit of those imprisoned, deprived and abused.
“What about the rest of prisoners who are still hunger striking? Why did not Hamas wait until the prisoners’ demands are met?” a young activist expressed her opinion with a mixture of anger and disappointment. “The prisoners’ protests of today and everyday are represented by all political factions but Hamas. I believe Hamas wanted to be in the picture again even if that meant losing the one and only card they have. Very smart indeed!” she added.
Whether the claims of Hamas’s attempt to hijack the attention off the prisoners’ hunger strike are true or not is irrelevant, all those questions echoing people’s minds are valid ones and one wonders if they will be answered anytime soon.
Another activist whose father is a prisoner added to the list of unanswered questions “Why did Hamas reach this deal now, they had Shalit captured for five years? We are still on hunger strike and the media coverage no longer cares to give attention to those suffering when both Hamas and Israel projected their heroic prisoner-exchange deal to the world!” Although Hamas’s list of prisoners is representative of all Palestinian political parties yet Palestinians seem unhappy that Hamas is taking full credit for the Operation Dispersive Illusion “Hamas never captured Gilad Shalit, Salah Al Deen Brigades did and Hamas got involved in later stages. It wasn’t pleasant to see Hamas celebrating so victoriously and flying solo. All Palestinian factions were marginalized in this and Hamas acted totally on their own.”
Standing there, I could not agree or disagree. There was no room for words, but my wide-open eyes saw whatever hope left in those families’ eyes “ripped off”. Could I let myself rejoice for all those women who will finally be reunited with their beloved family and children who’ve been longing for a warm embrace for too long? For the mothers whose hair had grown grey and whose beauty had faded away cause what meaning has life when heart is departed from soul? Could I rejoice for those fathers whose children had grown to be men without colors, men of grey, smell of sweat, and taste of beans, unsalted beans?!
My mind has told my heart to rejoice, and I promise I will try, but my mind cannot let go of the images stuck in my head, the images of lost faith in the Palestinian leadership, the religious, the patriotic, and the secular. Would we regain trust on those who promised that no deal would be reached with Israel without Ahmad Sa’adat and Marwan Barghouti? Who promised the deal will include at least 1500 prisoners? Would we regain trust in them when their definition of “prisoners’ release” is “exile” overseas and “deportation” to another jail called “Gaza”? Will our leaders (and they are too many) ever reconcile (with themselves) and stop giving us lies and false hope to gain grounds locally, regionally, and internationally (each with their allies that serve their interest)?
I am sharing this with you because today my heart cried, because those in jails taught me freedom, taught me bravery, and integrity. Today I am Palestinian because of you and if Palestine is fragmented, our struggle is not!
Key points: the Gilad Shalit deal
The Israeli cabinet has endorsed a deal to secure the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, whom Hamas has held captive in the Gaza Strip without any external contact for more than five years. In return, Israel will release 1,027 Palestinian militants serving sentences in Israeli jails.
The cost to Israel of releasing so many militants responsible for terror attacks, and of potentially boosting the standing of Hamas, is high. However, the overwhelming desire to bring Shalit home to his family has outweighed these concerns.
The campaign to bring about Shalit’s release has enjoyed mass support in Israel, where military service is compulsory and almost everyone has a family member, spouse or close friend who serves or has served in active combat duty.
This deal starkly illustrates the nature of the terrorist threat faced by Israel from Hamas, and the increasing use of kidnapping as a weapon in the terrorist arsenal. This is a threat faced today by UK forces in Afghanistan.
The deal does not have a direct impact on the peace process. Representatives of the Quartet will continue their efforts to renew negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority leadership in the West Bank, which is Hamas’s political rival. However, Hamas is likely to be strengthened politically, and this may push PA President Mahmoud Abbas to be less willing to compromise.
What is in the deal?
On Tuesday night, the Israeli cabinet overwhelmingly approved a prisoner exchange deal, which was signed secretly in recent days between Israel and Hamas. The deal will see the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit after more than five years in Hamas captivity.
The framework of the deal has been on the table for more than two years, but until now the sides have been unable to close the gaps on the fine details of the agreement. The deal was made possible as a result of both sides softening their positions.
Israel will release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit, in two stages:
The first phase, which will take place in one week, will see the release of Shalit and the simultaneous release of 450 Palestinian prisoners. Shalit will first be transferred to Egypt and then flown to Israel. The Palestinians released will be according to a list agreed between Israel and Hamas, and includes hundreds of prisoners who are serving life sentences for their involvement in terror activities.
In the second phase, Israel will release 550 prisoners of its own choosing, which will be presented as a gesture to the Egyptians. This will take place within two months of the completion of the first stage.
Israeli families of terror victims have been given the opportunity to appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court against the release of terrorists convicted of murdering their loves ones. Though some terror victims and their families are likely to protest, this is unlikely to stop the deal.
Not all of the Palestinian convicts being released will be allowed to return to their homes. Some from the West Bank will be sent to Gaza, and some of the more serious offenders will be sent abroad.
A number of heavyweight militants responsible for numerous terror attacks are excluded from the list, including Abdallah Barghouti, Abas al-Sayed and Ibrahim Hamed Hamas. Ahmed Saadat, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) leader responsible for the assassination of Israeli minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001, will also not be released.
There are conflicting reports as to whether senior Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, serving five life sentences for murder, will be released. Israeli officials quoted in the media have denied this, but there is no confirmation.
Why did Hamas agree to the deal?
For Hamas, the Shalit deal is a tool for winning popular support among the Palestinian public, at a time when its domestic political and diplomatic positions have been challenged, and with the potential for forthcoming elections in the Palestinian territories.
The Palestinian UN bid for statehood, orchestrated by the Abbas-led PA in the West Bank, has marginalised Hamas. The organisation has failed to end its international isolation or bring significant improvements to the situation of Palestinians in Gaza, which it controls. The Palestinian unity agreement signed in May 2011, under considerable pressure from the Palestinian public, shows no sign of being implemented. In this context, the release of over 1,000 prisoners, many of whom are affiliated with the group, will allow Hamas to claim a victory for the path of violent resistance over Fatah’s diplomatic route. Hamas has threatened to kidnap more Israeli soldiers in an attempt to release more prisoners.
With its Syrian patrons significantly weakened, Hamas has a greater need to improve its standing in the wider Arab world, and particularly with Egypt. The deal is likely to improve relations between Hamas and the new Egyptian leadership, which will gain international and domestic prestige as a result of the deal.
Why did Israel agree to the deal?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that he feels that the dramatic changes affecting the Middle East have opened a brief window of opportunity to secure a deal, and that he feared the prospects of a deal would worsen in future. Israeli leaders were apparently concerned that the unstable political atmosphere in Egypt could hamper the long-term prospects of a prisoner swap. Leading Egyptian officials have been crucially involved in brokering the deal, and without their involvement it would have been much harder to reach an agreement.
To close the deal, Israel reportedly allowed the release of individuals rejected in previous rounds of negotiations, allowed more prisoners to be released to the West Bank and Gaza, and allowed Arab citizens of Israel to be released.
Another possible reason for the deal now is that the new heads of Mossad and Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security service) support it, unlike their predecessors. For the Shin Bet, this is a huge risk. Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen reportedly provided assurances that Israel will be able to deal with the consequences of the release of hundreds of terrorists. These assurances were crucial in convincing ministers to approve the deal.
Relations between Israel and the PA are at a very low point in the wake of the PA’s bid to secure unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN, and Abbas’s popularity has been riding high. As a result, the negative political impact on Abbas of reaching this deal with Hamas may have weighed less on Israel than in the past.
Securing this deal will improve Netanyahu’s domestic political standing in the short term.
The deal was supported by all but three members of the Israeli cabinet. The leading opponent of the deal was the leader of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Israel agreed to the deal despite the fear that it could incentivise Hamas and other armed groups to attempt to capture more soldiers.
How will the deal affect the peace process?
The deal does not have a direct impact on the peace process. Representatives of the Quartet are continuing their efforts to renew negotiations between Israel and the PA leadership. These efforts will continue irrespective of the prisoner exchange deal.
Behind the scenes, Abbas will be under mounting pressure to reassert his leadership position. Conscious of his domestic battle for popular support at the expense of Hamas, Abbas may be even more wary of renewing negotiations with Israel.
What is the background to Shalit’s kidnapping?
On Sunday, 25 June 2006, armed militants from Gaza crossed into Israel through a tunnel and attacked an IDF base at the Kerem Shalom crossing. Two soldiers were killed and Shalit was abducted and taken back to Gaza. Hamas has not allowed any access to Shalit from his family or the Red Cross, and released only occasional letters and recordings as proof that he was still alive.
A well-organised ‘Free Shalit’ campaign with mass Israeli public support has kept pressure on consecutive Israeli governments to secure his release. Shalit’s face appears on bumper stickers and posters all over Israel, and his parents appear daily in the media. They have kept a permanent vigil in a tent outside the Prime Minister’s Office for two years.
The plight of Shalit has captured the attention of Israelis who can identify with the Shalit family’s torment. Military service is compulsory in Israel and almost everyone has a family member, spouse or close friend who serves or has served in active combat duty.
There are a series of precedents for these kinds of prisoner exchanges in Israel. Most recently, in 2008, Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, four other militants and the bodies of 199 more were released in return for the bodies of IDF servicemen Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, whose capture sparked the Second Lebanon War. In 2004, more than 400 prisoners were released in return for a reserve IDF officer kidnapped by Hezbollah in Dubai and the remains of three soldiers abducted over the Israeli-Lebanese border. In 1985, more than 1,000 prisoners were released to secure the return of three soldiers captured in Lebanon in 1982. These events create a challenging precedent for Israel, as many of the released prisoners returned to terror activity which claimed more Israeli lives.
Israelis are also aware of the precedent of Ron Arad, an Israeli airman captured alive in South Lebanon in 1986. Israel was unwilling to pay the price demanded by his Lebanese captors and Arad disappeared, with his fate unknown.