Without any doubt, the prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel is very good news if only for humanitarian reasons. Both the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, and most Palestinian prisoners had passed to much time under arrest in harsh conditions.
This is a rare case in such an entrenched conflict as the one in Palestine were all sides taking part in the agreement feel that they have won a victory. Israel has remained truthful to its well-known policy of full loyalty and support towards its soldiers. Hamas has achieved the release of a large number of prisoners, improving its standing among Palestinians. And Egypt, by means of its mediation, has occupied again the center stage in the politics of region.
After the exchange, the big question is whether this will affect the dynamics of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, which has suffered from stagnation during a long time. In other cases, agreements like this one have been building blocks towards a comprehensive peace deal, since they have created trust between both sides.
However, I doubt this is the case. I am afraid that both Hamas and Israel see this agreement as an isolated chapter in their struggle. Their approval of the deal has been driven mainly by internal politics rather than the will of exploring the chances for a compromise with the enemy. Therefore, neither Hamas nor Israel will soften their positions, a condition sine quae non for any success in the peace process.
In the short run, the main change will be the strengthening of Hamas, which comes just after its main opponent in Palestinian politics, al-Fatah had achieved an important political victory in the UN. We should not forget that elections may soon be hold in the West Bank and Gaza. In fact, they should have already taken place, but the division among the two big Palestinian parties has made it impossible so far.
Another change is the reemergence of Egypt as a diplomatic heavy weight in the region. In the last years, and especially due to the lack of credibility of the Mubarak regime for its blind following of American dictates, Egypt had seen its central place in the region diminished in favor of rising powers like Turkey or Qatar, or Saudi Arabia. Given the fluidity of the political situation in Egypt, it remains to be seen to what extent Egypt will recover its traditional role as the strongest and most influential Arab state.