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Ten years after the exchange deal, the Israeli shock has not allayed

A police officer keeps watch from an observation tower at the Gilboa Prison in northern Israel on September 6, 2021 [JALAA MAREY/AFP via Getty Images]
A police officer keeps watch from an observation tower at the Gilboa Prison in northern Israel on September 6, 2021 [JALAA MAREY/AFP via Getty Images]

These days, Palestinians and Israelis commemorate the 10th anniversary of the conclusion of the prisoner exchange agreement between the occupation and Hamas in 2011. Even after all these years, Israelis have a negative assessment of it. This is because the released prisoners have returned to resisting the occupation, and the attacks that were financed and assisted by the released prisoners during the agreement, provide sufficient evidence of the strategic damage they caused to Israeli security.

The recent exchange agreement has concretised the Palestinian belief that Israel is a weak State, and the same elite of released prisoners has resumed its military activities in Hamas. They were able to radically change the organisation and its dominance on the Palestinian scene.

Perhaps the worst thing that Israel did during the agreement, from the point of view of the Israelis, is that it is not satisfied with indirect negotiations with Hamas which calls for its destruction, but rather with the recognition that it is the owner of the land of Palestinian, and jumping all the red lines that it had set in the past in terms of releasing the Palestinian prisoners of 1948 and Jerusalem. This did not happen before, even in the 1985 agreement.

Today, ten years after the agreement, the question arises as to why Benjamin Netanyahu's government agreed to provoke what Israelis call a "national shock, or tragedy", by paying such a heavy price to Hamas in exchange for the release of a single soldier. Even though it was clear from the beginning that Israel would pay "huge prices" for the return of its soldiers from the clutches of its enemies.

READ: Hospitalised Palestinian prisoner enters 86th day of hunger strike

Not only that, but the increase in armed attacks by released prisoners in the West Bank, which have resulted in the deaths of many soldiers and settlers, means that these prisoners, whether resident in Gaza or deported abroad, have succeeded on the ground by bringing in funds and advanced weapons. They have been assigned to establish Hamas military cells throughout the West Bank, particularly in Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin, to carry out attacks against Israel. So, they have been operating continuously from where they are.

Israeli security circles believe that, over time, the methods of military action of the released prisoners have improved, due to geographical and clan proximity, and that the last few years have seen a leap in Internet work and greatly improved communication between the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and abroad. They managed to hide it by strengthening relations with the electronic departments of the military wing of Hamas.

Politically, Israeli security forums appreciate that the leadership that has led Hamas since the agreement is taking a more confrontational path with Israel, full of courage, and putting Israel in an embarrassing position. But the most problematic point for Israel is related to the message that every Palestinian child has understood since the agreement was made, that "Israelis only understand force", and that armed attacks are, ultimately, the best and most effective way to get concessions from the Israelis.

Moreover, what disturbs the Israelis is the spread of new Palestinian convictions after the "Wafa Al-Ahrar" (True promise of freemen) agreement, that there is no way to release the high profile prisoners, who are sentenced to life imprisonment or long sentences, other than kidnapping, particularly after the Palestinian Authority and its president failed to release them. The Palestinian public understand that this was the only way to deal with this sensitive issue, since they saw how Israel was "breaking the taboo" and creating a historical path.

After Hamas had its senior prisoners and the rest of the factions released in the Shalit deal, the Israelis fear that the movement will carry on with its approach to liberate all the major names who planned and carried out the most dangerous commando and bombing operations, including Hassan Salameh, Abdullah Barghouti and Ibrahim Hamid. If Israel acquiesced to these demands, the next deal would contribute to further strengthening Hamas, as the recent wars in Gaza did.

When making a general assessment of the Shalit deal, Israel thinks of it as a tragedy and a shock that it has not recoveredfrom the trauma, even after a decade. Even more, the deal had revealed a basic weakness that Israel suffers from. Nevertheless, such an unprecedented achievement gives an indication of what will be realised in the future, when the next deal is completed, and the assessment is that the price will not only be the release of a thousand Palestinian prisoners, but more.

READ: Recaptured Palestinian prisoner ends hunger strike

This means that Israeli society is still paying the price for the psychological trauma that followed the signing of that deal. Seven years after the end of the 2014 Gaza war, anxiety still grips the families of the captured Israeli soldiers in Gaza, along with Israeli fear to release Hamas prisoners. As long as it is clear that the government, society and Israelis continue to suffer from the trauma of the 2011 deal, it stands as a paramount obstacle to recovering soldiers or their bodies, or obtaining information about their fate.

At the same time, various Israeli circles expect that a new exchange deal will finally be reached that is no less than the previous one. Although, after ten years had passed, large Israeli circles are still facing difficulty in absorbing and trying to fathom the scene where the occupation was forced to seemasses of Palestinian prisoners as they were released and carried on shoulders. These were images and scenes that shocked the Israeli public, because the deal led to a completely different and new reality, and its echoes are still being felt to this day.

The Israelis agree on the premise that, from the moment the 2011 deal became the main reference for any possible future prisoner exchange deal, Hamas cannot, in front of the Palestinian public it cares about, create a big gap between what it achieved in the previous deal, and what is expected from it on the next deal. Because the movement is now considering that the previous deal is the real model for any future prisoner exchange deal.

It should be noted that the negotiations that took place recently in Cairo between the leadership of Hamas and the Egyptian intelligence discussed, among other things, the upcoming prisoner exchange deal, amid Israeli swaps for the movement, that the Gaza Strip will not be reconstructed without the conclusion of this deal, with divergent stances between them regarding the price required to accomplish it.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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