Jerusalem – Gilad Shalit’s release by Hamas and the freeing of 477 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons have generated a number of different reactions and comments in the Arab and Israeli press.
For Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, “After nearly four years, Hamas has reared its head in the West Bank. It's doing so with Israel's help [. . .]. Since June 2007, Hamas supporters in the West Bank have eschewed rallies or demonstrations; they're even wary about waving Hamas' green flag.”
To Israeli viewers, watching Hamas supporters wave the organisation's flag is not “something to be happy about. [. . .] Almost tragically, Israel has nearly succeeded in strengthening the war camp and weakening the Palestinian peace camp.”
In its initial comment, Yedioth Ahronoth (Israel) writes, “The Arab side is the clear winner of the Gilad Shalit swap”. [. . .] Hamas fans marked the joyous occasion of their countrymen’s release from jail with some trademark Arab civility: Urging renewed terror attacks.”
Still, for Miki Goldwasser, the mother of IDF reserve soldier Ehud Goldwasser, abducted and killed by Hezbollah in 2006, “even if the families of terrorists are happy like we are as we see Gilad Shalit’s return [. . .] they did not win, and they know it. They were humiliated precisely because so many terrorists were released for only one soldier. [. . .] They realize that they are not worth much if they are willing to exchange 1,000 of their own for one Israeli soldier.
On a different note, Uri Avnery, a prominent Israeli peace activist (head of Gush Shalom or Peace Bloc), said, “This is not the first time in history that people are considered despicable terrorists by one side and as freedom fighter by the other”.
At the age of 15, Avnery himself joined Irgun, a Zionist terrorist group, to protest the execution of Shlomo Ben Yosef, who had fired on a civilian bus full of Palestinians women and children. “In the State of Israel, Shlomo Ben Yosef is considered a hero, for whom streets are named and whose picture appeared on postage stamps,” he said.
Still, if the two sides do not pass from an agreement on prisoner exchange for a peace agreement between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine, the conflict will “continue and mutual bloodshed” will go on.
For Dubai-based Gulf News, the swap “was not a humanitarian gesture by either side”. The “release could have happened at any time, but the present moment suited both sides for their own political advantage.” Both Hamas and the Israeli government “have been put under pressure by both Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas going to the United Nations to seek recognition for the Palestinian state, and the new political dynamism in the region created by the events of the Arab Spring.”
Khaleej Times, also based in Dubai, agrees, praising Abbas because even if this “is a Hamas moment for now”, he wisely decided to hail the victory, sending “a clear message of unity and strength among the Palestinian leadership”.
The Gulf State paper hopes that upcoming meetings of the Quartet with Israelis and Palestinians will achieve some breakthroughs. Still, “peace negotiations, even if restarted are likely to collapse unless Israel cedes ground on this pivotal issue”, i.e. the settlements.
Lebanon’s French daily L’Orient-le-Jour is less optimistic about the deal. “The fact that Hamas radicals have gained some legitimate prestige, and that Mahmud now finds himself a bit more marginalised cannot but bring comfort to the Israeli government’s policy of procrastination and land grabbing”.
For the Daily Star, the exchange has a different meaning. For the Beirut-based, “the process of negotiations between enemies has a hope of success”, but only if the Quartet can “exert pressure on the belligerent party, Israel, in order to make real progress”.