By Arab News
Even though stage for the Palestinian-Israeli prisoner swap had been set for days, the spontaneous outpouring of joy and jubilation on both sides is moving. But are the two sides on the same moral footing? Of course, spending five years in captivity in Gaza couldn’t have been a pleasant experience for the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. But does it match the suffering and trauma of the thousands of Palestinians languishing in Israeli jails for years and decades? Can his ordeal in anyway be compared to the Palestinian misery under the Israeli occupation over the past six decades or the imprisonment of Palestinians in the large open-air gulag that is Gaza? Besides, while Shalit was captured fighting to maintain and perpetuate the most ruthless and inhumane occupation in history, thousands of Palestinians locked away in Israeli prisons were simply fighting for the liberation of their country, a right recognized by international laws.
This is why comparisons are odious. But that’s what most talking heads on the US and European television networks have been doing, highlighting the asymmetrical nature of the swap and how Israel has been generous to free over a thousand Palestinians for one soldier. Indeed, the spotlight was mostly trained on Shalit, offering blow-by-blow account of how the Israeli government rolled out red carpet for the young conscript. They conveniently ignore the fact that there are thousands of more Palestinians, around 10,000, in Israeli prisons. They include 22 members of Parliament and government.
As the world celebrates the release of Shalit and a thousand Palestinians, it must not forget the plight of those Palestinian prisoners, including women and children. More importantly, it must use this window of opportunity to push for the resolution of this long-festering conflict. The International Quartet is to meet soon to discuss the Palestinian bid for statehood. If world powers are really serious in finding peace, they have to assert themselves and tell the belligerent party, in this case Israel, enough is enough and it’s time to fall in line.
This deal has trained the spotlight once again on Hamas. Israel and its patrons have no qualms in negotiating and doing business with a party they have long demonized as a “terrorist organization.” They can engage with the so-called terrorists — Israel with Hamas and the US with Taleban — when it suits them. Others are targeted for taking the same route or even suggesting it. Will this hypocrisy ever end? Be that as it may, isn’t it time the West and rest of the world realized that it’s not possible to wish away Hamas, especially when it was democratically voted into power by the Palestinians? It has emerged as the legitimate voice of the Palestinians on par with Fatah, if not more.
The peace process and Palestine-Israel talks, if ever they resume, cannot move forward without involving the Hamas leadership, which continues to enjoy wide support among the Palestinians everywhere. For its part, the resistance movement needs to build on the goodwill it has earned itself to work for national unity and reconciliation with Fatah and other groups. The Palestinians cannot win freedom without unity of purpose and action. There’s no time to lose. The next few months could prove crucial for the Palestinians and the Middle East. The clock is ticking.