Hamas released Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit on Tuesday after holding him captive for five years. In exchange, Israel freed 477 Palestinian prisoners, most of them to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. It was just the first stage in a swap that will result in the eventual release of 1,027 Palestinians, some of whom have spent decades behind bars for violent attacks against Israel. Was it smart for Israel to make such a lopsided trade?
No. Israel handed a huge victory to Hamas: It was a relief to see Shalit, who was just 19 when he was captured, finally released, says Melanie Phillips at Britain's Daily Mail. But Israel paid too high a price by agreeing to free more than 1,000 "Arab terrorists." This "deal with the devil" weakens the moderate Palestinian leadership of Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction, strengthens Hamas, and may mark "the collapse of the peace process."
"Shalit's release marks the collapse of the peace process"
At least Israel is trying to limit the damage: The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is well aware that this was a risky move, says Karl Vick at TIME. Relatives of terrorism victims were appalled, and Israeli officials calculate that 60 percent of the released terrorists may resume their attacks. But Israel is trying to prevent future problems this time around by sending most of the former prisoners to Gaza, "which is sealed off from Israel," while exiling the worst offenders to Turkey, Qatar, or Syria.
"Gilad Shalit release: Israel's joy tempered by memories of an Intifada"
Actually, Israel got the better deal: This swap may boost Hamas' stature, says M.K. Bhadrakumar at Asia Times, but "Israel has won hands down." This painful bargain could patch recently frayed relations with Turkey (which reportedly consulted with both Israel and Hamas on the swap). But Israel's "most precious gain is going to be that it is back in business with Egypt," which actively brokered the deal. After the upheaval of the Arab Spring, Israel has reestablished the trust of "the one Arab neighbor it simply can't do without."
"Shalit: Israel wins, but it's only half-time"