Schalit's Release: Making a Deal With the Devil

Hamas, Israel and Egypt all benefit initially from the prisoner swap, but it remains to be seen what the repercussions of a rejuvenated Hamas will have on the regional balance of power.

By DANIEL NISMAN, AVI YESAWICH
October 12, 2011 12:33
Hamas militants celebrate in Gaza

Hamas militants celebrate 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem )

 
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After the breaking news first streamed in over a possible prisoner swap deal Tuesday evening, speculation began to run rampant about the motivations behind Hamas and Israel to suddenly arrive to an agreement on Gilad Schalit, especially after years of refusal by both parties to show any leniency on the issues causing the impasse. 

Initially, it seems as though both Hamas and Israel stand to benefit from the deal, despite their last minute compromises. In Israel, the motivations for accepting the deal are quite clear. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is facing the worst non-security related crisis in his career, and bringing Schalit home will effectively buy him valuable political clout that he needs to confront Israel's Social Justice movement. The images of young campaign organizers in white and blue "Gilad is still alive" t-shirts praising Netanyahu for his strong leadership come at an excellent--and rather convenient--time for Netanyahu, just days after medical residents staged a dramatic walk out and Israel's Labor Union is poised to declare a general strike.

The Top IDF brass is supportive of the prisoner swap, despite the fact that they will potentially face serious repercussions on the ground. Regardless, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen Benny Gantz and his IDF generals understand that the Schalit issue has become a strategic threat by crippling troops morale and discouraging Israeli parents from sending their children to combat units. On a tactical level, the negotiations relating to where the prisoners will be released - either the West Bank or Gaza - is of great importance to the Israeli security apparatus.

Any freed prisoner who chooses to return to terror operations will be hard pressed to do so from the Gaza Strip, as militant groups there have been primarily restricted to rocket and mortar attacks Israeli civilians or forced to operate via the Sinai. Even in the West Bank, the IDF and Shin Bet have honed their joint-intelligence gathering capabilities to the point where they are able to snuff terror attacks even before they are fully conceptualized by the terrorists themselves.

The deal is also beneficial for the Egyptian transitional government and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. For the past few weeks, the SCAF has been hit with repeated embarrassments brought upon by the attacks on the Israeli embassy and the recent sectarian violence between Egyptian Muslims and Coptic Christians.  Their key role in the brokerage of the prisoner swap allows them the renewed prestige of regional leader – even if it proves temporary, especially as the Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi's popularity hits an all time low.

Unimaginable repercussions

Although both Israel and Egypt stand to make initial gains from the swap, it remains to be seen what the implications of a strengthened, reinvigorated Hamas will hold for regional affairs, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Arab Spring. As Israeli society awaited the results of the emergency cabinet vote on the deal, Hamas wasted no time in demonstrating to the world that it has now reclaimed its role as a major player in the region, with every media outlet from Karachi to Los Angeles broadcasting masked fighters parading in the streets of Gaza city as Ismail Haniyeh threw candy to the cheering masses. The military wing of Hamas has also made clear that kidnappings have proven effective, and will be emulated in the future.



Indeed, Hamas has achieved a major victory, depicting the deal as a national Palestinian achievement, something that their rivals in the West Bank had been unable to do with their botched unilateral statehood bid. Hamas is likely to make every effort to ensure that the images of freed prisoners waving victory signs and Palestinian flags to the cheering masses as they are paraded down the streets will be seen across the Arab world for days to come.

 
The biggest impact will be felt in Ramallah, where even the most ardent Abbas supporters will come to realize that Hamas has become what Fatah used to be; the champion of Palestinian self determination, unwilling to compromise until all of Palestine is reclaimed. The unilateral statehood bid, on the other hand, started with great Palestinian fanfare, only to culminate into a lackluster, no-win outcome for Fatah, which has struggled to garner the necessary support from UNSC members in order to avoid a meaningless UNGA resolution.

A Hamas victory may have negative repercussions for the greater Arab world, which is currently at a crossroads after the Arab Spring swept the region.  The plight of the Palestinians remains a pan-Arab issue seen by many as the front line in the war against the west's colonialism and the fight against Islam. Hamas' Muslim Brotherhood counterparts are already major front-runners in upcoming elections in Tunisia and Egypt, and these groups will make every effort to portray the deal as a victory for the Islamic movement in general.

Iran, which recently cut back on its financial support for Hamas due to internal feuding and a weakening economy, may also jump at the opportunity to claim the swap as an Iranian victory, and will likely seek to bolster Hamas even further to show the Arab world that it continues to be a leader in the fight against the Zionist occupation.

The enormous sense of euphoria Israeli society is experiencing right now is certainly justified, and is exactly what the country needed in order to boost its morale in the face of Palestinian unilateralism, BDS and delegimitzation campaigns, regional unrest and price tag campaigns. Gilad Schalit has been part of the Israeli national conscience for five long years, and his return will finally close a dark and painful chapter in Israel’s history. However, the release of 1,000 terrorists is an exorbitant price for Schalit's release, and the long-term conditions of the prisoner swap are important to consider from a security standpoint.

However, no matter what the future may hold for the outstanding Israel-Hamas conflict, it’s an indescribable sensation to know that Schalit will finally be returned after such a long period in captivity.

Welcome home, Gilad.

Daniel Nisman and Avi Yesawich are independent journalists and political commentators on Middle East Affairs. They are IDF combat reservists and founders of the www.israelicentrism.com and www.friendasoldier.com

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