The Israel-Hamas exchange deal as a possible turning point
This was something to watch: Tens of thousands of Israelis dancing in the streets for hours to celebrate the return of one Israeli prisoner of war -- Gilad Shalit -- while hundreds of thousands of Palestinians cheered in Gaza as they received hundreds of released Palestinian prisoners (out of a total 1,027 released as part of the agreement). This prisoner exchange deal met with considerable support on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, proving that even the ongoing bloody Israel-Hamas conflict can manufacture a win-win result from time to time.
It was clearly not just a bilateral deal. In addition to the two sides to the conflict -- Israel and the Palestinians (Hamas mostly in this case) -- Egypt was massively involved as the leading mediator of the deal. Turkey was an important go-between in the attempted exchange during 2007-8 and received, as part of the final deal, 11 deported prisoners; Qatar and Syria absorbed 29 of the other Palestinians deportees; and France and Germany were important players in the ongoing diplomatic efforts around the deal.
It was not only the number of countries involved that made it an important regional and even international event. Huge media interest around the world turned the prisoner exchange into a mega-event, as did the massive public involvement on both sides of the deal.
It will be a terrible diplomatic, if not strategic, waste to stop here and forget about what has been achieved. The deal could become a vehicle for change in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and beyond. It has already improved Israel’s relations with Egypt and could represent a turning point in its frozen relations with Ankara. It is this last dimension that this piece focuses upon.
The Turkish-Israeli link
A few months ago bilateral relations between Israel and Turkey suffered their second official downgrading in six decades of diplomatic ties, this time to secondsecretary level. This is the lowest diplomatic rank possible, making this without doubt one of the worst periods in history of relations between the two countries.
In Israel we keep asking ourselves what we did wrong in our relations with Turkey during the last few years. The answer is usually, “We did nothing wrong; it is the massive internal political-cultural change inside Turkey of the last decade that triggered the change and brought about the hostility towards Israel.” Regarding the Mavi Marmara affair and its implications, the atti-
Israel’s President Shimon Peres (L) sits next to freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
(Oct. 24, 2011)