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Business as usual after historic prisoner swap

JY Hodge

November 20, 2011

Less than two weeks after Israel freed over 1,000 Palestinian political prisoners in exchange for a single Israeli soldier captured five years ago, violence flared again with the Palestinians absorbing the brunt of the pain.

Israeli airstrikes killed seven Palestinians in southern Gaza—members of Islamic Jihad—while in return, Gazan militants fired several rockets into Israel damaging buildings and setting fire to parked cars.

This incident follows an all-too-familiar pattern of Israel appeasing domestic hawkishness through the deployment of overzealous military force, in the wake of what is perceived at home as a diplomatic failure.

Israeli public opinion was sharply divided over the imbalanced prisoner exchange, with demonstrations for and against it, as well as much verbal hand-wringing in the media and the blogosphere. Opinions ranged from “what took the government so long?” to “no negotiation with terrorists” to the depressingly common and racist view, “an Israeli life is worth much more than a Palestinian’s. Look what a single Israeli gets in return.”

Diplomatic coup or not, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu expected to accrue substantial political capital from the exchange, given the high profile of Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier held incommunicado by Hamas. That capital has not been forthcoming.

In contrast, Hamas—by securing the release of dozens or hundreds of Fatah members as well as its own—has shown itself to be an effective representative of Palestinians’ national interest, insofar as it has been able to wring concessions from the occupier.

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