It would be tempting, following the release of Gilead Shalit, to be swept up by a tide of optimism and to believe that the prisoner exchange might be the harbinger of a thawing of relations that would lead to a rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world. However, we must not allow wishful thinking to blur our perception of reality.
In the widely condemned Egyptian television interview that was forced upon Gilead Shalit before he was finally allowed to return to Israel, he was asked whether he would work for the release of a further 4,000 Palestinians being held in Israeli jails. In a thoughtful response, particularly given his emotional condition, he said that he would support their return home provided that they refrained from further acts of violence against Israel. The translator, who clearly had a good command of Hebrew, failed to translate the provision for his Arab listeners.
Earlier this evening, when Ismail Haniyeh, a senior Hamas political leader, addressed the crowds assembled in Gaza, he proclaimed that the Palestinians would never agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state on just 22% of historical Palestine. Haniyeh’s remark was clearly aimed at Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority and critical of any effort to reach an accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians that would lead to two states living side by side in peace.
Today was a remarkable day, but we must not allow our jubilation to tempt us into believing that things have really changed.