Six years ago today, Gilad Schalit came home after five years and four months in Hamas captivity. For Israelis, there was an enormous out-pour of emotions and tears as we watched Gilad walk into freedom.
For Palestinians, 477 Palestinian prisoners were released on this day and Palestinians watched with awe as they too walked into freedom – many being imprisoned for many years.
My first conversations with Hamas people began in early 2005. My first intervention to seek the release of Schalit was on July 1, 2005. I have hopes that the new Palestinian internal reconciliation will lead to new opportunities for Israelis and Hamas supporters to enter into dialogue – and that will be beneficial for both sides.
I have tried and failed over the years to open up dialogue with Hezbollah supporters and officials in Lebanon and with supporters and members of the Iranian regime. I will continue to try – even though I am not optimistic at this time.
I will point out that it has always been easier to find serious, establishment people from Israel to participate in these dialogues than people from Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. I have always been willing to speak to anyone who is willing to speak to me.
I believe that people have the ability to change their opinions and views and I will continue to try to build bridges across very deep divides between people in our region.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.