I asked Spencer Ackerman this morning why Israel was willing to agree to such a lopsided prisoner-exchange with Hamas, and he wrote a great post on it:
Ever since Shalit’s capture, Israel effectively made his capture a potent international symbol of Hamas’ perfidy. Shalit held no value to Hamas except as a symbol; well, if that’s the way they wanted it, Israel would highlight the emotional resonance of holding a young soldier hostage for so long. The problem with that approach is that it bargained up Shalit’s price in negotiations. Shalit’s capture was already very raw for Israelis — and very, very understandably — and successive Israeli governments’ emphasis on Shalit only increased domestic pressure to get him home at any price. Hamas saw an opening and took it.
It’s worth contrasting Shalit’s case with that of PFC Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl has been a prisoner of the Taliban for two years. The Taliban sporadically release risable, pornographic videos of Bergdahl for propaganda purposes. But the U.S./NATO military command, as much as it wants Bergdahl released, do not make Bergdahl a major public symbol. That would only increase the Taliban’s negotiating position, making it more likely that ISAF would box itself into the corner that Israel just faced.
I do wonder here to what extent the symbiotic relationship between the Israeli right and the Palestinian right plays a role here. The contrast between Mahmoud Abbas getting nothing from Israel through international law and advocacy for two states, and Hamas getting a lopsided deal through kidnapping, violence, and unreasonable demands must be palpable. At the same time, strengthening Hamas’ hands vis-a-vis Abbas is Israel’s best strategy for forestalling western pressure on Israel.