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The winner

October 18, 2011

Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is finally free after five years of Hamas captivity. In exchange, Israel is releasing over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. DW's Rainer Sollich comments that Hamas benefits most from the deal.


Is the freedom of one Israeli soldier worth 1,000 times more than that of a Palestinian prisoner? The question is cynical, but the unequal swap of an Israeli against over 1,000 Palestinians has a moral dimension that cannot be overlooked.

As much as Israel is rightly internationally criticized for its settlement policy, as much as it harasses the Palestinians and occupies their country in breach of international law, it must be recognized that it protects and values its own Jewish citizens to a degree that will probably always remain foreign to ideologically motivated groups, such as the radical Islamic Hamas.

Rainer Sollich
Rainer Sollich is head of DW's Arab Service.Image: DW

From Israel's perspective, the release of more than 1,000 prisoners is an almost unbearably high price to pay for Gilad Shalit's freedom. Though it includes people who were tried in questionable proceedings, it also comprises perpetrators out of conviction, who gloat without any qualms about murdering Israeli civilians - and who are celebrated as heroes on the Palestinian side, not only by their families. It therefore also speaks in Israel's favor that it isn't staging any anti-Palestinian hate rallies glorifying violence, as favored by Hamas.

From a humanitarian perspective, the deal is a cause for joy. Negotiators Turkey, Germany and Egypt are due great recognition. It can be questioned, however, whether the exchange of prisoners opens a new opportunity for the peace process in the Middle East, as expressed by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle a few days ago and by Shalit himself in his first statement following his release.

Indeed, the opposite could happen. Hamas feels as if it is the victor in this unequal deal. Its militant course is being strengthened and encouraged - not least compared to the more moderate powers around Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He cannot boast to his people about extorting the release of prisoners. Rather he is unsuccessfully fighting on the international stage for recognition of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. His peaceful approach means he is among the losers of this deal.

Hamas, though, is now clearly aware that kidnapping one single Israeli soldier can in future be a worthwhile business for the group. It wins back fighters. It gains political significance - and popularity.

On the part of Israel, it's to be feared that the prisoner exchange will not facilitate a rethinking. Rather, it can be expected that the right-leaning government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will continue to follow the inhumane blockade of the Gaza Strip just as consistently as its settlement policy in the West Bank. A strengthened Hamas will deliver the necessary pretense if necessary.

Author: Rainer Sollich / sac
Editor: Rob Mudge

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