Kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held by Hamas for three years, is close to being released:
European diplomatic sources said Thursday that kidnapped Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit will be transferred to Egypt in the coming hours or coming days.
One soldier being returned as part of a prisoner exchange may seem like a token gesture, but the Shalit situation had become such a symbol in Israel proving the evilness of the enemy.
The agreement that was reached between Israel and various Palestinian groups, with the help of the United States, European nations, and Syria, will be dominated by the news of Shalit's transfer to Egypt, but the other deals that were made should not be overshadowed.
Hamas, Fatah, and other Palestinian groups have made an agreement for joint governance of the Gaza Strip that reports to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. This would seem to satisfy Abbas' second condition for pursuing peace with Israel:
(2) somehow overcome the huge split in Palestinian governance between his Fatah movement, which controls the West Bank, and Hamas, which rules Gaza and hasn't yet accepted Israel's right to exist.Israel is also making concessions:
The agreement will include the exchange of prisoners and the opening of crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip.The crossings have been an issue since Hamas took control of Gaza, because it has limited or slowed the flow of commerce and humanitarian aid.
There is no doubt in my mind that this deal came to fruition through the talents and ideals of President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Middle East Envoy George Mitchell. They have worked tirelessly to renew our country's standing in the Middle East, including resuming true diplomatic relations with Syria.
Now the real work begins. Whether these symbolic gestures will remain only symbolic will rest on both sides' ability to clamp down on their extremists, the Israeli settlers and the Palestinian militant groups. A bevy of rocket attacks on Sderot or a settler killing a Palestinian could destroy all the good will that will grow from this deal.
I do believe this, though. Gilad Shalit was the ultimate symbolic bargaining chip. He wouldn't have been released had both sides not believed that a lasting peace was within reach.
Let's hope I'm right.