We all of course grasp the hopeful news, meager though it is, emanating from Gaza during the current crisis. Ynetnews reports that one of the three groups responsible for kidnapping Gilad Shalit, the Army of Islam, released a statement claiming it would not kill him because it violated Islamic precepts:
Islamic Army, one of the groups behind Gilad Shalits’ kidnapping, says it will not kill the IDF corporal despite the expiration of an ultimatum issued Monday. ‘Islamic principles stipulate that prisoners should be respected,’ a group spokesman states.
“Some think that the groups who conducted the operation can kill him, but our Islamic principles stipulate that prisoners should be respected,” said Abu al-Muthana, spokesman for the Islamic Army, small group involved in the operation.
Given how confusing and chaotic the current situation is–and there are reports that the Egyptian mediators are having great difficulties finding any interlocutors among the kidnappers even capable of negotiating a deal and making it stick–one doesn’t know precisely what this statement means. But it certainly isn’t unreasonable to interpret it favorably.
A Jerusalem Post story last Friday also reports that Al Hayat indicates that the framework of a potential agreement is taking shape under the auspices of Egypt:
The agreement that Mubarak claimed to have reached with the kidnappers involved an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the release of prisoners scheduled to be released anyway in the next year, in exchange for the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit.
The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper said that Cairo has proposed that the swap would not be simultaneous but that the Palestinian prisoners would be freed later. Al-Hayat’s sources, whom it did not name, said Hamas’ leadership outside the Palestinian territories has not responded to the proposal.
Mubarak told…Al-Ahram that Shalit’s kidnappers have agreed to his conditional release, but Israel has not yet accepted their terms.
Mubarak said, “Egyptian contacts with several Hamas leaders resulted in preliminary, positive results in the form of a conditional agreement to hand over the Israeli soldier as soon as possible to avoid an escalation.
…The Egyptian president also demanded from his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad to deport the Syrian-based Hamas leadership unless it agreed to Shalit, Palestinian sources said. He warned Mashaal that by insisting that thousands of Palestinian detainees be released in exchange for Shalit, he was leading the Palestinians to disaster, Israel Radio reported.
The last paragraph is certainly captivating as it would mean that pressure (possibly even effective pressure) is being brought to bear on Khaled Meshal to allow the agreement to go forward. Of course, one wonders what Basar Assad would gain by making such a threat to the exiled Hamas leader. Why would Assad want to do anything on behalf of Israel after it sent four jets screaming over his summer home trailing sonic booms in their wake?
Ynetnews adds further detail to the story:
Shalit will he handed unharmed to Egypt or France, and in return both states would vouch for an Israeli commitment to free Palestinian prisoners, halt its activity in the Gaza Strip and withdraw its forces from the area. Israel will also be required to remove its embargo on Gaza and put an end to targeted killings.
In exchange, the Palestinian factions would cease all Qassam fire at Israel. The sources said they believe Egypt would agree to this offer.
One hopes that the Olmert government will realize that if the kidnappers accept this agreement it would hand Israel much of what it’s been attempting and failing to deliver for the past months–an end to Qassam rocket fire. One assumes also that if the agreement is realized that Hamas would reinstitute its ceasefire. In that case, Israel would have close to the best of all possible worlds in terms of its security. No more suicide attacks (at least not one orchestrated by Hamas) and no more Qassam attacks.
But even if the agreement is accepted and implemented by both sides (a very large ‘if’), I must remind everyone that it is at best a short term solution. For if Israel does not take the bull by the horns and agree to bilateral final status negotiations, then the violence against Israel will resume. It has to because Israel will not have addressed the root causes of the violence.