Gilad Shalit to be Released

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: The other big news story today comes from Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government and the Palestinian militant group Hamas have signed a deal for the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Benjamin Netanyahu: [Speaking Hebrew]

Werman: Netanyahu said he called Shalit's family to them their son would be home in the coming days. In exchange Israel will free as many as a thousand Palestinian prisoners. Shalit was grabbed by Hamas in a cross border raid more than five years ago. The Israel - Hamas deal was brokered by Egypt and Germany. Gerald Steinberg is an Israeli is a professor of Political Studies at Bar Ilan University in Israel. He says the timing of the announcement is due to a few factors.

Gerald Steinberg: First of all, there has been some change in the Israeli security leadership. The head of the General Security Service like the FBI has, the new one, has said that he thinks that his organization and Israeli capabilities will be able to contain most of the terror that will resolve from the release of a thousand people who have been involved in some very very massive terror attacks against the Israelis. That's a major change. Up until now, some of the leaders of the security services have opposed this type of agreement. Also I think the changes that are going on in Egypt have led Prime Minister Netanyahu to want to reach an agreement before things become even more chaotic in Egypt. At least now Egypt being the source of the core of this agreement and the only way it can be actually be carried out is to see Gilad Shalit brought to Egypt and then over the next period of time Israel release the Palestinians with it's holding without having an Egyptian partner. That would probably be impossible to do.

Werman: Is this news related at all to the Palestinian bid for statehood? Is it some kind of PR campaign on either side?

Steinberg: No, in fact it's interesting that Fatah, the Palestinian authority Mahmoud Abbas who was just in the UN, the President of the Palestinian I think, they're not involved in this in any way, manner, or form. Some of the issues that come up is among the prisoners that are going to be released, those who have been involved in terror. Such as Marwan Barghouti who was convicted of some very major terrorist activities. Whether he will also be in this, as a future leader of Fatah or a leader of Fatah, will that be also a part of the agreement and to what degree that will play into the Fatah - Hamas conflict in competition. That, I'd say, is a secondary issue certainly for Israelis. The main issue is Gilad Shalit seeing his parents every day outside the Prime Minister's house and knowing he was someone who was captured, kidnapped from Israeli soil as an Israeli soldier who has been basically lingering in Gaza for five years. The Israeli public wants to see him out even if there's a high cost.

Werman: And if this swap happens, what kind of impact do you think it will have on negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians now? And on Israeli public opinion about those negotiations?

Steinberg: If there's a results of this exchange, of this agreement, there's a big spike in terrorism, then you will see becoming even more unwilling to take major security risks, but if in the next year or two we do not see any kind of increase in terrorism, then it wont have a negative impact, but it wont necessarily have a positive impact. The deal was being made with Hamas through Egypt and the negotiations take place with an entirely different group of Palestinians, so in reality there's probably no link between the two.

Werman: For some of the Jewish community in the US who know the precise number of days Shalit has been held by Hamas, this is huge news. Remind us of the significance of Gilad Shalit. Not just for Israelis and Jews, but also why he's a high value prisoner with the Palestinians.

Steinberg: Gilad Shalit was kidnapped in June of 2006 while he was on guard duty within Israel and whisked across in Gaza and held there. It's very frustrating for Israelis when you have your soldiers, you have your sons and your daughters to be brought into the army, to have someone who's kidnapped and being unable to release him and unwilling to pay the price because if you released, the argument has been made over the years and it will be made again tonight by opponents of the agreement. If you allow this agreement to go through, you're setting [xx] for more terrorist attacks and them more kidnappings to release the terrorists involved. So this is something that has been a very high emotional issue, but because most Israeli families send their sons or daughters or fathers into the army and having him there and not being able to release him has been a source of major frustration. He has become a symbol of basically the most fundamental violation of the human rights of any Israeli and the fact that there's been a large silence in terms of that, to have him back will be, I think, a significant closing of a circle for many other people, even those who did not know him and the whole family, but seeing him as that symbol.

Werman: Gerald Steinberg, professor of Political Studies at Bar Ilan University in Israel. Thanks so much.

Steinberg: Thank you.