Israeli story of the year: Gilad Schalit’s release

The biggest Israeli news story of 2011, according to JPost voters: Hamas swaps captured soldier for prisoners.

Gilad Schalit arrives at his home in Mitzpe Hila 311 (photo credit: IDF Spokesman)
Gilad Schalit arrives at his home in Mitzpe Hila 311
(photo credit: IDF Spokesman)
The results are in: Over 75 percent of readers voted Gilad Schalit's release as the biggest Israeli news story of 2011. In second place were strikes and protests across the country, with almost 10% of the vote.
Some have called it national suicide. Others have claimed that the decision to make the deal demonstrates what distinguishes Israel from its neighbors.
RELATED:Some of 2011’s top faux-pas, bad social mediaEnd of year review: The death of bin LadenWhile its enemies praise death, Israel sanctifies life, and for that reason it was willing to pay such a heavy price to retrieve one Israeli soldier and bring him home to his family after more than five years in captivity.
The controversy surrounding the Gilad Schalit deal is exactly what has made it the top story in Israeli news for readers of The Jerusalem Post. It is a demonstration of national unity and the manifestation of the ancient Jewish saying "All Of Israel Are Responsible For One Another."
The problem is that there is no doubt within the defense establishment that for Hamas and Hezbollah, Israel’s decision to release 1,027 convicted terrorists in exchange for Schalit will motivate them to try and kidnap more Israeli soldiers in the future.
Last week, during a tour of Israel's border with Egypt, commander of the Gaza Division's Southern Brigade Col. Tal Hermoni revealed that motivation to kidnap soldiers was on the rise and that Hamas was digging tunnels along Gaza's border with Israel which it plans to use to infiltrate into the country to kidnap another soldier.
The question now is what Israel will do after another soldier is kidnapped. Later this week, former Supreme Court justice Meir Shamgar is supposed to submit the recommendations his panel suggests the government adopt in the event that another soldier is kidnapped.
When Schalit was abducted by Hamas in June, 2006, then-prime minister Ehud Olmert announced that Israel would not negotiate his release. This quickly changed when, as prime minister, Olmert successfully negotiated one prisoner swap with Hezbollah for the bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, and started the negotiations with Hamas that culminated in Schalit’s release.
While Israel could potentially declare that from now on, there will be no more negotiations, this is easier said than done, and the government will have difficulty explaining to the family of the next soldier why it is not willing to negotiate the release of their son.
An alternative is for the government to make a decision and publicize that it will go to war following a future kidnapping. While this might help in establishing a deterrence to prevent the abduction of a soldier, the Second Lebanon War did not get Goldwasser and Regev back.
Even two months later, government officials admit that the ongoing upheaval in the Middle East was what played a key role in getting both Israel and Hamas to ease up their demands and agree to conduct the swap.
Israel understood that the changes in the region could lead to Schalit being lost forever. The fact that Jerusalem still has someone to talk to in Cairo also contributed to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's decision to make the deal, out of concern that a future Muslim Brotherhood-ruled government would not be willing to serve as a mediator.
For the Hamas leadership, the upheaval in Syria forced it to also ease up its demands. Recognizing that Bashar Assad's regime is falling and that he will need to find a new home for Hamas headquarters, Khaled Mashaal wanted to do so when he is on good terms with the Arab world and particularly Egypt, which he hopes will agree to host him.