In one of the most lopsided prisoner exchanges in Israeli history, Gilad Shalit was released from captivity in exchange for 1,027 Palestinians prisoners. After an emotive 5-and-a-half-year saga, it was hard not to feel moved by scenes of a young man reunited with his family. But does such a conciliatory gesture really represent a symbolic step towards peace? Well, I for one am extremely doubtful.
Though many Israelis and Palestinians have reacted sympathetically to the exchange, opinions about the realistic significance of the event in the overall peace process are justifiably negative. Many view the deal as short-sighted in that it will only embolden the Islamist Resistance Movement, an organisation which regularly defiles its honourable cause by blowing up buses and murdering innocent civilians. Such an exchange of convicted criminals will surely only rouse the group to increase its status and outstrip the potentially diplomatic partner Israel has in Mahmoud Abbas.
Many also see the deal as nothing more than a thinly-veiled PR victory for Israel. Indeed Israel’s key tool in presenting this narrative has been the use of the press, with the main emphasis having been on the release of the one Israel Defence Forces (IDF) soldier. The 1,027 Palestinians on the other hand, are merely portrayed as faceless trade objects.
The only real way for peace to occur is for the equality of both peoples to be upheld as sacrosanct, because with inequality comes resentment, anger and terrorism; indeed when you treat people as hostile, they will in turn react with hostility. For this reason, I don’t see attacks on Israel’s southern border stopping any time soon, and I can’t therefore see Israel ceasing its military incursions on the Gaza strip either.
Let’s be clear about this. Israel is not going away and neither is Palestine, but this one single event should not be viewed as a boon to reducing extremism and therefore achieving peace between the two. In order for genuine peace to occur, Netanyahu desperately needs to start acknowledging the wider issues otherwise, this intractable problem may simply never be put to bed.
Impact Columnist, Tom Clements