James Arbuthnot MP is Chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel.
In June 2006, Israeli Corporal, Gilad Shalit was kidnapped from inside Israel in a cross border attack. After spending 1,940 days in Hamas captivity, today he was finally released into Israeli custody, in a prisoner exchange deal that will see the release of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners – convicted terrorists and murders – from Israeli Jails.
The freed Palestinian prisoners make their way back to Gaza, the West Bank and in the case of Israeli Arab prisoners, East Jerusalem. Shalit meanwhile, is now back in the arms of his family has been deemed in good and stable health, but Israel’s literal ‘prisoners dilemma’ will always plague the country. What price was Israel willing to pay for the safe return of Sergeant Shalit?
Most western states would balk at the cost incurred. It is said that the people on the list for the exchange deal have been directly responsible for the deaths of 599 Israelis. One of the exchanged prisoners, Amna Muna was jailed for life in 2003 for luring 16-year-old Israeli Ofir Rahum from Ashkelon to Ramallah, where he was shot dead by Fatah terrorists. Others were responsible for some of the most vicious terrorist attacks in Israel’s history.
But this exchange deal is characteristic of a country that places extremely high value on the lives of its citizens. National service means that almost every Israeli family has someone in the army. As a result, the State makes a promise to those everyday people who donate their youth, and risk their lives in order to defend it.
As we move forward, it is imperative that we don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. The contours of the conflict remain unchanged and the wider issues must not be forgotten. It is all too easy to forget what Hamas really stand for. They call not just for the creation of an Islamic State and the destruction of Zionism but for the destruction of the Jewish people. Article 13 of the Hamas Charter states that: “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavours.”
Undoubtedly, Hamas will use the Shalit deal to re-shape the Palestinian internal balance of power by claiming that they brought Israel to its knees. They have already warned that future kidnappings will be on the agenda. Abu Obaida, spokesman for the armed wing of Hamas, Izzadin Kassam flagrantly stated that Shalit, "will not be the last solider kidnapped by Hamas as long as Israel keeps Palestinian prisoners detained."
We must not be naïve about the true nature of this organisation. Hamas continue to send rockets over the border into Israel. They smuggle arms and they ignore Security Council resolutions. Their devil’s pact with Iran remains as strong as ever. And significantly they continue to thumb their nose at the Quartet Principles set out by the international community; reject violence; recognise Israel; and abide by previous peace agreements.
The UK must continue to hold Hamas to account and pressure it to change its ways. Terror tactics and fancy PR tricks must not be rewarded. With its ideology intact, Hamas cannot be a partner for peace and will ensure that any Middle East peace is short-lived. On this, the Government must remain resolute.
Israel doesn't always get everything right. The international community may not always understand Prime Minister Netanyahu. But today, I congratulate him. Like every good Prime Minister he listened to what the people wanted and he made the tough decisions. He did the right thing. Now Hamas must do the same.