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Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange could help peace process -- prisoner releases were a cornerstone of Irish peace

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Gilad Shalit
The release of Gilad Shalit and the corresponding release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners is a similar tactic to what was used in a critical stage of the Northern Ireland peace process.

Owen Bowcott writing in the Guardian newspaper today calls Irish prisoner releases a cornerstone of the Irish peace process.

It was a step at the time that was noted in Israel and several commentators urged Israel to do the same to kick start negotiations.

The New York Times noted that the swap today 'could shake up regional politics."

Though there are obvious differences with Ireland that may now be the starting point in the process there too.
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Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 2005, Dr. Alina Korn, a criminology lecturer at Bar-Ilan University, said: "It is worth learning from the experience of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

"There, the British and the Irish governments … agreed to release most of the political prisoners, even those with 'blood on their hands', and took advantage of their release to promote broad support for the political process.

"… There is something about the release of prisoners that benefits those who release them as well … Opening the gates can make it clear to Israelis, once and for all, that there is a connection between Palestinian happiness and Israeli peace and quiet."

The Northern Irish prisoners on both sides were released in the critical days of the peace process not long after the Good Friday Agreement was agreed.

It led to an unprecedented sense of progress in those communities hardest hit by the Troubles where hundreds of men and women had spent their adult lives behind bars.

Many of those prisoners became linchpins of the peace process, selling it in their communities.

The hope is that both sides in Israel and Palestine may see it in the same way-- that peace and security depends on both sides dealing and negotiating with each other and that real progress can flow from concessions from each side not just hard lines drawn in the sand.

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