The price to free Gilad Shalit

This month marks the third anniversary of Gilad Shalit’s long imprisonment with the Palestinians who kidnapped him.  Although it doesn’t seem to show up in American press, German and Israeli outlets are reporting that the Germans (!?) have brokered a deal for his release.  Here’s Der Spiegel:

Three years ago he was kidnapped by Hamas. Will Israeli solder Gilad Shalit soon be freed as a result of negotiations conducted by Germany’s BND foreign intelligence service? Under a proposal forwarded by the Germans, at least 450 Palestinians would be released in exchange for the soldier. The deal must still be approved by Hamas.

Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, has put forward a concrete proposal in negotiations for the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. According to information obtained by SPIEGEL, Israel would release at least 450 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit. After his release, the Israeli government has expressed a willingness to release further prisoners.

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that the prisoner releases be done as a humanitarian gesture and without any time pressure. Hamas has been given until the beginning of September to respond to the proposal.

The same story has been picked up in Israeli media sites, such as the Jerusalem Post and YNet news, although neither offers independent Israeli corroboration for the story.  The only corroboration comes from Palestinians, and I don’t count them as an historically reliable source.  According to the JPost:

Asked to comment on reports in some Arab media outlets about a breakthrough in the negotiations, [Hamas legislator] Bardaweel said: “It’s premature to talk about a deal. The German mediators are still in the process of gathering information.”

Bardaweel said that reports to the effect that a deal was imminent were aimed at exerting pressure on Hamas regarding the case of Schalit.

He added that the ball as still in the Israeli court and that if Israel really wanted to reach a deal, it could do so quickly by accepting the demands of Schalit’s captors.

Bardaweel said that despite the involvement of German mediators in the negotiations, the Egyptians were continuing to play a role to bridge the gap between Hamas and Israel.

Sources close to Hamas said that Ahmed Ja’bari, commander of the movement’s armed wing, was still in Cairo for talks with Egyptian General Intelligence officials about the prospects of reaching a deal with Israel.

YNet news expands upon the reference in the JPost article to Palestinian newspapers touting a deal:

Prisoner swap’s details have been finalized, sides await Netanyahu government’s approval, Palestinian newspaper al-Manar reports; Shalit expected to be transferred to Egypt in first phase of deal

Coming back home? A swap for the release of IDF captive Gilad Shalit has been finalized and awaits Israel’s approval, Palestinian newspaper al-Manar reported Saturday.

According to the report, all details of the deal have been worked out and the parties are now waiting for the Netanyahu government to endorse the agreement.

The United States and Syria played a key role in finalizing the deal, the paper said, nothing that this involvement prompted both Israel and Hamas to show more flexible positions.

According to the newspaper, the first phase of the deal will see Shalit handed over to Egypt following the release of Palestinian prisoners to the West Bank and Gaza. Sources in the know are quoted as saying that Israeli officials have expressed great reservations over the heavy price to be paid by Jerusalem in exchange for Shalit. Hence, the sources said, both PM Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak wish to see a broad public campaign that would pave the way for the deal’s approval.

As for me, I don’t trust either source, whether German or Palestinian.  The Germans have never been power brokers in the modern Mid-East, and their sudden emergence now is suspect.  And as for the Palestinians, I already mentioned their dubious history with regard to truth.

In any event, the story only says the Palestinians have agreed — and it may have been an easy agreement to reach because it’s a no lose for them.  If the agreement reaches fruition, they get 450 fighters return to them to kill another day.  If the agreement fails, they can boast that they agreed, and Israel refused to cooperate.

On Israel’s side, I’m ambivalent.  Gilad’s captivity is one of the great unsung human rights abuses in an area that comes under the media’s (and the UN’s) obsessive watchfulness.  Had an Arab been held captive in Israel for even three months without the due process Israel routinely accords such prisoners, it would have been a cause celebre in every paper in the world on a daily basis.  I want Gilad to come home.  On the other hand, setting a price on his release of 450 prisoners creates a huge incentive for the Palestinians to kidnap again and again.  For a small effort — securing one Israeli — they get a huge return.