Hamas earned respect and credibility for its management of a very complex issue. In particular, the entire operation was played out on Palestinian land and largely handled in Palestine for five years under complicated and dangerous circumstances.
The deal brought joy to the lives of prisoners, their families and all Palestinians living in Palestine and abroad. It was a joy combined with honor, dignity and the promising spirit of victory.
Veteran prisoners who were not included in the deal have endured, along with their families, untold pain and suffering. The released prisoners and all the Palestinian people sympathize with them and understand these feelings.
It is important to highlight, however, that the continued suffering of the remaining prisoners is not caused by the prisoner exchange deal, but rather in spite of it. It is caused by a lack of a Palestinian vision for liberation that is tangible and ripe for the moment.
No deal without its limitations
The idea that postponing the prisoner swap could have improved the terms of the deal is simply not true. On the contrary, postponing could have jeopardized the agreement entirely. Such deals are done when the timing is right. They cannot be rushed, postponed, or determined beforehand.
The prisoner swap deal, or any deal of that sort, is not without its limits. One should not expect from a deal to liberate all 6,000 prisoners languishing in Israeli jails. We should evaluate Hamas’ success or failure based on the following question: did the movement exhaust all its capabilities before signing off on the deal? The answer is a definite yes.
The deal, as it was achieved, is the outcome of certain power dynamics, and approving it was a legitimate and appropriate action. In the history of all struggles and liberation movements, even among the victorious, there are losses and victims. That does not make the victory any less significant.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh emphasized an important point in his liberation speech in Gaza.
“The borders of historic Palestine — Gaza, the West Bank, and the 1948 areas — are the borders of the prisoner exchange deal.
“With resistance we liberated Gaza. We liberated the land and the people,” he said.
Indeed, as Haniyeh claimed, resistance achieved what no other track, such as negotiations, was able to achieve or even come close to achieving.
Failure of West Bank “leadership”
In addition to liberating the prisoners and their families from the burden and suffering of imprisonment, the exchange represents another important development. The swap exposed a Palestinian leadership in the West Bank that does not hold much promise, as it has no real vision or project for liberating the rest of the political prisoners.
It is no secret that this leadership is under the illusion that progress is possible without resistance, that it will come about as a gesture of good faith on the part of Israel. The history of the struggle with Israel, however, has taught us that the Zionist state will not hesitate to commit any crime against the Palestinians, unless it is unable to do so or pay the price. The prisoners will not be liberated by laws, courts, mercy, or futile negotiations.
The prisoner exchange deal has created a new margin of freedom for Palestinians and an atmosphere of national reconciliation. It has also rehabilitated a supporting Arab role that had been suppressed by peace agreements from Camp David to Oslo to the so-called Arab Peace Initiative.
It has restored the value of resistance and the prospects of liberation, reaffirming that what was taken by force can only be restored by force; what was taken by occupation can only be restored by liberation; and what was taken by dispossession can only be restored by return.
Inclusion of 1948 prisoners
Hamas’ insistence on including in the prisoner swap deal for Palestinians living in the 1948 lands is a strategic accomplishment. It is not the first deal, historically speaking, to include prisoners from that part of historic Palestine. It is, however, the first deal since the Oslo accords to do so, setting a precedent for the future.
The deal also revealed the multi-strategic role that the new Egypt can play in liberating prisoners and restoring Palestinian rights, if the political will is there.
Hamas was able to take advantage of Israeli public opinion, which pressured the Israeli government for the return of the imprisoned Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. It withstood Israel’s repressive escalation against it, against the prisoners movement and against Gaza.
After the deal, the people expect any action by the Palestinian leadership on the prisoners issue to be connected to the question of their release. The goal is to liberate the prisoners and not merely to improve the conditions of their imprisonment.
It is no longer acceptable to postpone the issue of prisoners or give priority to other issues, as is the case with the Palestinian Authority’s pointless negotiations, conditioned as they are on freezing settlement expansion. The framework around the issue of political prisoners, namely that there will be no final peace agreement without the release of all prisoners, is practically a deferment strategy. But Palestinians do not want this issue deferred as this is an opportunity hastened by the prisoner swap deal.
Israel is taking precautions to prevent the capture of its soldiers and to create a deterrent policy that includes liquidating Palestinian leaders, tightening their grip on prisoners and using intelligence and technological assets. These methods, however, have been tried, and the Palestinian people have remained undeterred.
Nevertheless, one should not underestimate Israeli plans, and there is a need to fashion a Palestinian strategy to minimize the price paid in struggle while maximizing the benefits. This requires Palestinian preparedness. There is also pressing need for a supportive Arab contingent and for investment in Turkey’s role. Since both Egypt and Turkey desire regional power status, they can help foster, along with popular Palestinian, Arab and international solidarity movements, a safety zone that could deter Israel, liberate political prisoners and restore Palestinian rights.
Ameer Makhoul is a Palestinian civil society leader and political prisoner at Gilboa Prison.
This article is co-published by Beirut-based al-Akhbar and translated from Arabic.