Palestinian & Israeli flagsI am ambivalent about the Israeli-Hamas deal which has resulted in the release of one Israeli soldier, and eventually over a thousand Palestinians. While Gilad Shalit’s family and friends must be overjoyed, the price is a high one. Of the prisoners which Israel is releasing, at least a third have been convicted of serious terrorist crimes. I never consider murder a “political” offence.

My own political position is not at all equivocal. I think that the illegal occupation of land outside Israel’s borders and the oppression of the people living there is an absolute outrage, without excuse. And I think that both Israelis and Palestinians suffer as a consequence of the bloody incompetence of a government which suffers from the form of madness allegedly defined by Albert Einstein: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

If I was a Palestinian, maybe desperation and a hatred of injustice would have turned me to violence too. If I was an Israeli, maybe I’d vote for a government that talked and acted tough, whatever else it did. But I’m not. I’m here safe in a haven of democracy and peace: Northern Ireland, and I’m objective.

Not really, of course. Northern Ireland had its own terrorist prisoner releases, as part of the negotiations and agreements which led to a cessation of violence and implementation of devolved, power-sharing government. It sickened me, to be honest. People who had committed the most appalling crimes were set free, purely because their motivation was deemed “political”. The rest of us, who might have had political issues to raise, but who thought that murder etc, was morally wrong, we had no say.

I imagine that many Israelis feel like that. Multiple murderers are being put on the bus to Gaza, or to nominal exile. But whatever my instinctive feelings, I have to admit that Northern Ireland is better off now than it was. Our government is filled with flag-waving fools, and is moderately dysfunctional, but it’s kind of muddling through. Very few released prisoners have re-offended.

One point of view is that, if nothing else, the prisoner deal shows that Hamas and Israel can negotiate and come to agreement. Others claim that it’s the weakness of both sides which has forced a deal — with Fatah on the rise after the claim for Palestinian statehood, the Arab Spring, and increasing isolation of Israel as Turkey and Egypt realign.

I’d like to be optimistic. Both Hamas and the current Israeli government seem about as uncompromising and hardline as they’ve ever been, and yet they negotiated a deal. Let’s hope more deals can be done.


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