How did the freedom swap become possible? All the time Gilad Shalit was held prisoner, Israelis held vigil. They kept up pressure to free him. Not only an individual, Gilad Shalit stood for the person in anyone’s family doing national military service.
Analyst Shlomo Aronson said: “The boy became our son, so to say, and women, mothers, children were writing letters to him in captivity, his picture was running all over the country. So this kind of psychological pressure played of course a role.”
Other circumstances in favour of a deal included a new chief taking the reins of the Israeli secret service, Shin Bet, in March. His predecessor had been strongly opposed to such an exchange deal.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself preferred a firm policy against anything categorised as terrorism but he would not pass up an exceptional opportunity. The international diplomatic horizon is overcast, Israel is heaving with social unrest and he could use a success.
Analyst Jonathan Speyer said: “He will probably face some opposition from Israeli society but Netanyahu will now be riding a wave of popularity.”
Egypt’s help is important. Egypt and Israel are political partners. That may not last. Egyptian elections in a few months carry uncertainty.
Hamas has an ally in Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad — but, again, for how long? Syria is a social-political powder-keg right now.
The Islamist movement Hamas, in power in Gaza since 2006, is having unprecedented difficulty governing at home, increasingly internationally isolated. Hamas needs a success.
Speyer said: “Hamas was badly in need of political achievements of one kind or another at the moment, also because of the “Arab Spring” which left it feeling a little bit isolated and ignored, also because of the recent advances made by the Palestinian authority.”
Since Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas pressed the UN for recognition of Palestinian statehood — without support from Hamas — the Fatah party leader head-quartered in the West Bank has enjoyed an upsurge in popularity. His people would not give him top marks for the prisoner swap because it does not include Marwan Barghouti or Ahmed Saadat, who are in Israeli hands — both heroes for many Palestinians.
For the moment, there’ll be some celebrating in Gaza, for a while forgetting the hard living conditions. But this will not simplify the Hamas-Fatah equation.