Gilad Shalit was welcomed home today after five long years in the Hamas prison system. (The Telegraph is live-blogging his homecoming for those interested.)
The 477 Palestinian prisoners who were freed today in exchange for Shalit are also celebrating their own homecoming, albeit under different circumstances. (The remaining 550 prisoners will be released in two months.) Though Israel hopes the terms of Shalit’s release will lead to renewed peace efforts, Gazans have already greeted their released compatriots with demands for more kidnapping and violence:
“The people want a new Gilad!” the crowd chanted, suggesting the abductions of Israeli soldiers would mean freedom for thousands more Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.
…most of the 477 prisoners freed Tuesday had been serving life terms for killing Israelis, and their release violated a long-standing Israeli pledge not to free those with “blood on their hands”…
In his speech, Abbas praised the released prisoners as “freedom fighters.”
He suggested that his method of negotiations was also bearing fruit, saying that “there is an agreement between us and the Israeli government on another batch (of releases) similar to this batch after it finishes.”
His comments marked the first time he referred to an additional prisoner release, and there was no immediate Israeli comment.
The Boston Globe has some sobering (and gruesome) details about several specific Palestinian soldiers and the reasons they had been imprisoned. JTA has more here.
Even so, polls indicate that an overwhelming majority of Israelis supported the terms of the exchange–likely because universal conscription means nearly all Israelis can strongly identify with the desire to leave no soldier behind.
Curiously, polls also indicate that 66% of Israelis have little hope for a peaceful solution to the Palestinian conflicts. 67% of those polled last month also said that President Netanyahu did not believe peace with the Palestinians is possible.
It’s as if Israelis are desperate for an end to the conflict, but have all but given up hope that an agreement will ever be reached. No doubt Palestinian families feel the same way, though many of their leaders seem bent on continuing the conflict at all costs.
Netanyahu noted this morning that “On this day, we are all united in both joy and pain.” That may be the best, most universally applicable summary of this situation yet uttered. And as Palestinians welcome home their loved ones today, no less loved for having blood on their hands, it’s hard to imagine a time when the pain and the joy will not be thus co-mingled.