Gilad Shalit, the Israeli Defense Forces soldier who has been under the control of Hamas since 2006, may be freed in a prisoner exchange deal, according to multiple officials.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said that “a brief window of opportunity has been opened that would possibly lead to Gilad Shalit’s homecoming,” adding: “The window appeared following fears that collapsing Mideast regimes and the rise of extremist forces would make Gilad Shalit’s return impossible.”
The officials’ comment came following a report by Al-Arabiya, according to which a deal has indeed been reached between Israel and Hamas geared at the release of the IDF soldier, in Hamas captivity since 2006.
After an emergency cabinet meeting, the deal was made official. In exchange for the release of Shalit, Israel will release a thousand Palestinian prisoners, including reportedly Marwan Barghouti, a leader of the First and Second Intifadas and a major figure in Fatah.
If released, t’s possible that Barghouti could become the figure that unites Hamas and Fatah, rather than Mahmoud Abbas. He ran in the Palestinian Authority Presidential elections back in 2005 before withdrawing in favor of Abbas. But now, Barghouti has a new political party called al-Mustaqbal, and he could be a force in Palestinian politics. The accusations of terrorism from the Israelis would presumably make it very difficult for them to deal with Barghouti as a partner, however.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not confirm the release of Barghouti, only that Shalit would be home “in the coming days.”
Notably, Egypt brokered the deal, proving that they remain a force in Middle East politics even after the revolution.
If Barghouti were included it would represent a possible sea change in Palestinian politics. If not, it’s still an example of the two sides actually working together on something, even if only a prisoner swap.
UPDATE: Israeli media now reporting that Barghouti is NOT in the deal.