Amidst constant warfare, controversy and fear, a small, bright light has finally appeared in the battle between Israel and Hamas. Long days of diplomatic talks payed off on October 18, 2011 with the release of Gilad Shilat, an Israeli soldier who has been held captive by Hamas since 2006. This seems like a ground breaking step towards peace, but the agreement is far from it.
Israel long awaited the day Shilat was freed from his Hamas captors. He has become an icon of terrorism stemming from the Gaza Strip and Israelis have been praying for his safe return since the abduction. Jews across the globe share sympathy for Shalit and his family, often through social media. My Facebook newsfeed alone has exploded with “Welcome home, Gilad!” and “Gilad is back in Israel!” statuses. This attitude towards his release fosters not only national pride, but a sense of community linking Jews outside of Israel.
Despite the wonderful effects that resulted from his release, what it means for the state of Israel is quite different. Israel traded 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for 1 Israel solider. I have no problems with this agreement; it took too long for Israel to realize that even one imprisoned man is too many. But the actual exchange will probably have little further effect on peace talks between Israel and Palestine.
Israeli diplomats began discussions with only one intention: free Shalit. They weren’t looking for an answer to long-term land disputes plaguing the nation. By the time they settled on the exchange, Israel was not thinking ahead. Diplomats were focused on the pure joy Shalit’s family would experience when they were reunited with their son, the swelling of pride Israelis would feel when one of their own soliders was returned to them and the moment that citizens would be connected by a small victory.
Odds are, Netanyahu did not intend for Shalit’s release to spark talks. He doesn’t want to cede land to Palestine, so it wouldn’t make sense. His discussions with Palestinian officials were not even direct. Instead, they communicated through Egyptians messengers. Netanyahu’s purpose was to please the masses. He comes off as a man dedicated to making his people happy and Shalit’s return does just that.
Even though the swap can not promise future negotiations, this doesn’t take away from the bliss it brings Israel. The deal proves Israel is dedicated to its people and will do whatever it has to to keep them happy and safe. Props to Israel. To quote a recent tweet that popped up in my Twitter account, “#WelcomeHomeGilad.”