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Analysts: Prisoner Exchange Could Boost Hamas

Gilad Shalit salutes in front of Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu at Tel Nof air base, Oct 18, 2011

Gilad Shalit salutes in front of Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu at Tel Nof air base, Oct 18, 2011

Some Middle East analysts say the release of an Israeli soldier and hundreds of Palestinian prisoners could have a significant effect on security in Israel and the Mideast.

It is a rare day in the Middle East when Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Israelis celebrate the same event.

Five years after Hamas militants in Gaza captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, they released him Tuesday. On the same day, Israel released hundreds of Palestinians. Many were convicted in attacks on Israelis, but the Palestinians regard them as heroes.

After greeting Shalit, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned any freed Palestinian who returns to terrorism will be held accountable.

Michael Singh, managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says that is a major concern.

“Some of these men and women who were released are dangerous people who have engaged in terrorist acts and so the impact on Israel’s security or upon the security of the region is worrisome,” Singh said.

The prisoner swap comes after years in which little progress has been made in building peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

“I think that for Israel part of the reason [for the swap] was that they no longer worry as much as they did in the past about weakening the Palestinian Authority or about strengthening Hamas because frankly, right now, the peace process is stalled,” Singh said.

The exchange could alter the rivalry between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank.

Analysts say Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, after years of unsuccessful negotiations with Israel, could suffer politically.

Hamas, which negotiated the swap with the help of Egypt, could get a boost in popularity.

“You know [Hamas] was badly in need of political achievements of one kind or another at the moment, also because of the Arab Spring, which has left it feeling a bit isolated and ignored, also because of the recent advances made by the Palestinian Authority with regards to the United Nations’ and recognition of a Palestinian state,” said Middle East analyst Jonathan Speyer.

Israeli security analyst Daniel Scheuftan says the rapid changes in the Arab world also create new challenges for the Jewish state. “The real issue is when you look at Iran, Turkey, Egypt and the United States we have had changes that make the environment Israel needs to operate in much more dangerous, much more unstable,” he said.

Under the agreement that led to the release of Shalit, Israel will release 550 more Palestinians over the next two months.