A Middle East analyst speaking in West Orange said that the deal to free captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has been greeted there with mixed reactions.
“Seventy-nine percent of Israelis wanted this deal done. That’s a huge percentage in Israel,” said David Makovsky, speaking at the Leon and Toby Cooperman JCC Tuesday within hours after Shalit’s release by Hamas.
But the deal, in which Israel swapped some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for Shalit, has its critics.
“They worry this deal is lopsided in the way it incentivizes Hamas to kidnap more soldiers,” said Makovsky, director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Makovsky spoke before about 30 people at a briefing sponsored by Martin Gross, president of the Washington Institute and a member of the Community Relations Committee of MetroWest and Central NJ.
Makovsky said he views the Shalit deal as simply “transactional.”
“Each side had an interest in getting this done now,” he said.
In Israel, the deal reflects Israel’s social contract, that the state must sacrifice for the individual if it asks the individual to sacrifice for the state.
“Every Israeli thinks, ‘He could have been my son,’” said Makovsky.
But it was also opportunistic on the part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
With the shifting politics in Egypt resulting from the Arab Spring, “clearly things are changing in the Middle East for the worse, and for Bibi Netanyahu, there is no sense they will get a better deal a year from now,” said Makovsky.
He said the decision was probably influenced by echoes of the Ron Arad case from the 1980s, when a deal was postponed and the Air Force officer was killed in captivity. With major social protests under way in Israel, the deal also offered a moment of glory for the government, he said.
Makovsky said the timing was also opportune for Hamas, which had been sidelined by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s UN bid for unilateral statehood.
The Shalit deal offered Hamas “a move to be relevant in the world again,” Makovsky said. It also offered Egypt, as the mediator, a chance to align itself both with Israel and with its emerging Muslim Brotherhood, which Makovsky predicts will have a large role in the new government.
Turning to the Palestinian statehood bid, Makovsky said Abbas erred in going to the Security Council rather than the General Assembly. The United States has veto power in the Security Council, while the “General Assembly would have enough votes to say the earth is flat,” he said.
“The UN vote is not over; it’s still going on, but the impact is not as high,” he assured his audience. “My biggest fear was massive demonstrations, but that has subsided — there has been very little violence and scattered at that.”
Makovsky also shared his anxiety over what he fears may be the new policy in the Middle East, especially in Egypt: “No peace and no war.”
“My fear is a repeat of the Turkey situation — they will keep peace treaties going but within a new political context if the biggest bloc is the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.
The Brotherhood, an Islamist movement, “are the Marathon Men in the Middle East. They will consolidate power over a long time and hollow out the agencies in Egypt from the inside and take over.”
Makovsky worries that even if such “Arab Spring” countries do head successfully toward democracy, the road there can take decades.
“And the process of democratization is the most turbulent and destabilizing,” he said.