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According to the New York Times, the Israel-Palestine prisoner swap has completed its first stage, in which IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was returned to Israel in exchange for 427 Palestinian prisoners.

The soldier, Sgt. First Class Gilad Shalit, 25, was taken from Gaza, where he had been held since Palestinian militants abducted him in a cross-border raid in 2006, into Egypt and from there to Israel, where he was given a medical check and declared in good health. Looking pale and thin, he changed into a military uniform and was flown by helicopter to an Israeli military air base where he was reunited with his family and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Today we are all united in joy and in pain,” Mr. Netanyahu said shortly after in a televised address from the base, Tel Nof, south of Tel Aviv.

The article also describes the scene in Gaza, where festive crowds greeted the returned prisoners.  550 more will be returned during the next few months in accordance with the deal.

As for the significance of this exchange, there now are several major questions to answer:

  • Will this exchange help establish the trust necessary for the peace process to make major strides forward?
  • How much are Hamas and Netanyahu strengthened in the realm of domestic politics?
  • Will capturing Israeli soldiers now be a recurring tactic for Israel’s adversaries?
I might be overly optimistic, especially given Netanyahu’s record, but this deal feels to me like it will increase momentum toward peace.
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