By Orlando Radice
October 19, 2011
Once you have got over the surreality of it all, one’s first thought on the release of Gilad Shalit might be: so if Israel and the Palestinians can knit a deal like this together – which took years of proposals, planning and attempts at indirect talks – why can’t they get down to the bigger business of peace talks?
It is a valid question. However, the answer lies in exactly the same place that the question emerges from: the very reason Israel can countenance exchanging over 1,000 hardened murderers for a single soldier and engage in talks with one of its deadliest enemies is that Israelis’ hearts are welded together more powerfully and defensively than any other national community. The life of Gilad was the life of every youngster who heads into the army. He was indeed the child of the nation.
Now, this is not normal collective thinking. But Israel is not normal. For 63 years it has been worrying over its very existence. Wars and intifadas produced the Shalit deal as much as they wiped out the trust that would underpin a peace settlement.
Around 80 per cent of Israelis were in favour of the deal, even though it is a huge blow to the country’s deterrence capability. In the words of the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, it was an excruciating dilemma. It may prove to be a deadly one in the not too distant future. But there you have it, this was about hearts – lots of hearts – not minds.