The commandment (Mitzvah) of redeeming prisoners (Pidyon Shvium) is not only a Talmudic, but also a moral and practical vow which consecutive Israeli governments have made to serving soldiers and their families since her early days of independence.
The release of Gilad Shalit will bring to an end one of the most, not only intricate, but also visible campaigns to ensure the release of a captive Israeli soldier. Even in London the image of the young soldier, who has spent the last 64 months in very difficult conditions, could be seen on passing taxis around the city. No doubt Israelis are joyful to see the young soldier unite with his family, just as there will be Palestinian celebrations to welcome their released prisoners.
Last week's agreement to exchange the Gilad Shalit for more than 1000 Palestinians prisoners from Israeli jails seemed to catch almost everyone by surprise. However, at a closer look this agreement is making not only humanitarian sense, but also political sense.
It is the relative weakness of both the Hamas and the Netanyahu government in recent months which made them both more receptive to compromise and concessions needed for a successful outcome.
For the first time in years the Egyptian and German brokers realised that both sides saw the benefits of a deal rather than a tough stand in negotiations, which might project a strength but achieve no results. For a while the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas has regained the initiative both domestically and internationally culminating in receiving wide endorsement by the international community for their statehood application to United Nations.
The current Israeli government seems to be out of sorts in addressing popular malaise against the worsening economic conditions, and the obvious international isolation as a result of its stand on the Palestinian issue. Had it not been for US threat of veto, Palestine would have been recognised as state among the nations. Under these circumstances and considering the fast changing conditions in the rest of the Middle East, both sides accepted that despite the drawbacks of this agreement, it might be the last chance to reach such a deal. This outweighed Israeli moral and security concerns, and Hamas' inability to have all the prisoners it wished released or to dictate the conditions under which they were released.
Nevertheless, this agreement marks the end of the facade of these two sworn enemies not talking or negotiating with each other. They have done so, and even reached an agreement which was in both of their interest. It remains to be seen whether they can learn from this experience and continue in the future to address wider issues concerning a peace between Israel and Palestine.
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