The first group of Palestinian prisoners has been released from israeli jails as part of a deal to free 1,027 Palestinian inmates in exchange for Hamas-captured israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Press TV has interviewed Baroness Jenny Tonge, a former member of British Parliament, to talk about the swap deal and what it may mean for israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The video offers the opinions of Samira Quralshy, a political analyst for Middle East Monitor.
Press TV: You have taken a lot of slack and a lot of very public criticisms from within your own party and beyond for this stance has it been worth it?
Tonge: Of course it has. It has been worth it if only a dozen more people in Europe have found out about the plight of the Palestinians. That was why I did what I did; that was what I say what I say. I do not hate israel. I love Jewish people but they have to realize that their future lies in recognizing the rights of the Palestinians and obeying international law.
Press TV: This prisoner release deal, this historic swap; how do you read the situation?
Tonge: I think it is absolutely wonderful. You know what struck me first was a thousand one, if that was a football score — I have been watching all the rugby last weekend and thought, ‘thousand one, boy, that is some score, — how did they manage that? And then I thought — being a mother and a granny — imagine suddenly finding out after thirty years that your husband still snores or your son still won’t eat greens. I mean, it is such a long time but you think of the joy. I mean, it makes me quite emotional to think about the joy in all those hundreds of families being reunited, including Gilad Shalit who has had all the attention, of course, great joy there too.
So that is the next thing but then the thing that fascinates me most of all is the fact that the israelis have been talking to Hamas. Now I think that is the most significant thing of the whole lot because the israelis always say they cannot talk to Hamas; they won’t talk to Hamas until Hamas do A, B and C and –all these conditions they throw in their way all the time, but they have been doing it and that means that they have established a rapport with Hamas.
On the other hand, Fatah and President Abbas have to recognize that the israelis have been talking to Hamas and Hamas has had a great success in the prisoner exchange with israel that should make Fatah and the people in that organization more easily talk to Hamas, I think it is very good news all around that people being communicating with one another and that is the central thing if we are going to start a peace process. There are still 6 or 7 thousand prisoners still in israeli jails, still waiting one day to be reunited with their families. On the other hand, I think that this a very happy time for all of those families who have seen their loved one returned and it is a good and positive thing that people have been talking to one another and especially against the background of the Arab spring.
All the things that have been happening around the whole area, israel has to realize that they have got to come to some accommodation with the Palestinians; they have got to settle this problem; they mustn’t wait as they seem to be doing until they see how things pan out. It could be twenty or thirty years before we know what just the Middle East is going to be like but israel should not risk that. They really must solve this huge problem that they have made for themselves entirely their fault, they have made this problem and they have got to solve it by giving the Palestinians their land back and creating a secure and prosperous day to Palestine.
Press TV: I mentioned very briefly in the intro there that the Palestinian statehood bid seems to have been put on the back burner somehow and in some cases rightly so, this is a historic moment, people need to focus on what has been achieved here but any chance of that going hand in hand with this operation?
Tonge: Well, it should. If the international community and in particular the United States and the Europeans, we have got to realize that this is a unique time. We have had the release of all these prisoners; we have got all these people talking to one another when they said they never ever would and at the same time, we have got President Abbas making a bid for Palestinian sovereignty at the United Nations. It is a very exciting time and if we miss this opportunity — I mean that phrase is so hard to use, isn’t it? — we never fail to take the opportunity to miss an opportunity, well, we mustn’t and I think the Europeans and the United States have really got to get over this now.
Press TV: There has been so many comparisons made about what is going on in Northern Ireland on the eve of the peace agreement there when the maze was essentially thrown open and prisoners from both sides were released, could this be a template for the Palestinian situation?
Tonge: Well, people are always saying that but I think that every situation is unique. Yes, there are elements in Northern Ireland and certainly talking to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was one of the big leaps forward in the peace process in Northern Ireland that our government suddenly realized that they really would start talking to the people causing the most trouble. So, you know, there are similarities but this is unique and it is time it was settled and it lies at the root of so many problems in the Middle East and in the wider world. People are furious about the plight of the Palestinians and it is a problem that we have to solve for the future of our children and grandchildren.
Press TV: You talked about unity there and you saw a little bit of that with the global resistance; people discussing the issues, becoming more aware of what all aspects of this could actually mean. Unity was crucial for you. Why did you say that?
Tonge: Unity on the Palestinian side is crucial for me not because I do not understand the history of the divide and why Hamas and Fatah fell out –I understand all of that and I recognize that the elections in Palestine in 2007 were not recognized by us when Hamas won. That was not wrong but if there is one thing that is always thrown up by politicians in the West about the Palestinians, it is they are divided. There is no one to negotiate with because the two sides are divided.
Well, in the last few weeks we have seen President Abbas go to the United Nations and plead for sovereignty for Palestine. That was a brilliant move, brilliant publicity for Palestine, a great thing to do. We have seen Hamas actually talking to the israelis and negotiating. It’s fantastic, prisoner swap. That means that both sided have done so much good recently that they really ought to join together now and say here we are; we are a united front; come and let’s talk.
Press TV: There is a change. It’s just how fast will this affect things from the top down?
Tonge: I said earlier I was an optimist. It is a very difficult subject and of course at the moment with the recession and the financial situation in Europe and in America, everyone is obsessed by that and what is going on and it is actually getting it into the news; it is actually getting people to start focusing on these things. So I go back again to the bid for sovereignty at the UN, the prisoner swap that has just taken place, that has caught the headlines; it has caught the news and we, politicians, should actually try and carry the ball from there.