It’s All in the Numbers

25 Egyptian prisoners celebrate their release

Mathematics is without a doubt a difficult subject. For those not arithmetically inclined, the thought of equations, algorithms and calculus can speed the heart rate. But as hard as math already is, in the past few months, the world has been asked to unlearn understood logic in math and has witnessed the strangest of equations, one that calls into question the value of Arab lives to those of their Israeli counterparts.

Israel’s negotiations with Arab regimes to free two Israeli prisoners — one, a soldier, the other a suspected spy arrested in Egypt — we have witnessed another case of the numerical imbalance. Gilad Shalit, the Israeli Military Forces soldiers, captured by Hamas, and exchanged for 1,027 Palestinians, and his lesser-known yet equally important counterpart, Illan Grapel, a suspected-Israeli spy, arrested in June in Cairo for reportedly spying on Egyptians in the run-up to its uprising against the Mubarak regime, swapped today for 25 Egyptian prisoners held in Israeli jails, holds true to the computations of Arab lives to Israeli counterparts.

Two Israeli men equal 1,052 Palestinian and Egyptian men, women and children. This simple equation reflects the deeper imbalance in the regional disparity of political power. Many pundits and political observes have rightly posited that these prisoner exchanges are a boon for the regimes and the political forces in Egypt and in the Palestinian territories, a small but significant victory for Hamas.

But not everyone sees success in the swaps. In past negotiations the Palestinian Authority has attempted to undermine Hamas control, by thwarting prisoner exchanges deals, favoring instead to work towards an equal playing field in negotiations and talks. Similar deals in Egypt in the past have included military incentives, reflecting the power position of Egypt’s military in regional dynamics. Most recently revelations by Egyptian and Israeli press accounts point to a pivotal deal for F-16s, via the United States, that helped to motivate the Egyptians to make the swap. While many Arabs feel this illustrates how hard Hamas is pushing against Israel, for others it is a reinforcement of the way in which the deck is always stacked in Israel’s favor and most regional computations favor Israel, even if the Arab governments and representatives of these deals played the disproportion in their favor.

By Hamas’s own math one Israeli soldier, whose age matched the prison terms of some of the Palestinian prisoners, seems to be worth more than a thousand Arabs. Just as with the first swap, the exchange for Grapel, only solidifies the persistence of quite clear, rather than fuzzy, math that illustrates the regional strength of Israel and the comparatively low worth of Arab lives. From such a perspective, until the math behind the deals becomes about equality, even in the apparent victories, the numbers still favor Israel.


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