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The Opportunity Cost

October 4, 2009

(Read the English transcript of Shalit’s video message here.)

It’s been two days since the exchange of the captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit’s proof-of-life video for Israel’s release of 20 Palestinian female prisoners. The final prisoner of the 20 was freed today as the last step to the soldier-video swap.

After being made public, the video has been replayed nonstop on television, radio, and video web-hosting sites. As of Monday, the endless number of video uploads by individual users on Youtube had each been viewed over at least 40,000 times.

Israeli newspapers Yedioth Ahronoth and Maariv dedicated more than half of their pages to the Shalit video. Under the headlines “Broken Smile” and “May I fulfill my dream of going free, at last”, the newspapers’ extensive coverage ranged from an analysis by former prisoners of war, emotional comments by the Shalit family, to piercing commentaries on “how Israel has failed its son, Gilad”.

There have been conflicting reports on the significance of Friday’s exchange and the prospects of Shalit’s release and Israelis and the Hamas reaching a deal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was encouraged by the video and President Shimon Peres said, “The tape is an important step, but there is still a long way to go”. Israeli media quoted one Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip said reaching a deal is “a matter of weeks, or at the most – months”. Father of the captive soldier Noam Shalit expressed fear that negotiations might take years.

Looking at the recent swap, Newsweek‘s Adam B. Kushner wondered how much “mere proof of life” is worth. According to Kushner, analysts argue that these swaps could encourage more attempts to capture soldiers because the return or the “exchange rate” is very high as long as they seize “somebody valuable enough” – enough to make Israelis want to trade.

The free Shalit campaign has launched a new slogan, “Bibi you can do it, finish the job”. The question is, how much is the Israeli public willing to concede for Bibi — Benjamin Netanyahu — to “finish the job”?

Read our TIMELINE of events since Shalit’s capture.

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