News coming out of the Middle East had a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas a matter of hours away as recently as two days ago. Hamas would agree to halt rocket attacks on Israel. Israel would agree to halt military operations on Gaza. Israel would agree to lift the siege. The issue of Gilad Shalit and freeing Palestinian prisoners would be left to the next stage of negotiations.
That was what we heard till today. And as is Israel’s wont, when it suits, it changes its terms almost on a whim. Amos Gilad, Ehud Olmert’s military advisor and chief negotiator with Hamas and Egypt, thought he had a deal. But now he doesn’t. And he’s pissed:
Amos Gilad, the Israeli Defense Ministry’s liaison in talks with the Egyptians, was quoted in the newspaper Maariv on Wednesday as having told an associate that Israel was risking its relations with Egypt.
“I don’t understand what it is that they’re trying to do,” Mr. Gilad was quoted as saying about the Israeli government. “To insult the Egyptians? We’ve already insulted them. It’s madness. It’s simply madness. Egypt has remained almost our last ally here.”
Undoubtedly, the recent election is causing Olmert to cave in to pressure from the Israeli right which wants to do nothing that could be seen as capitulating to Hamas. Bibi Netanyahu has a strong hand as a result of the resurgence of the right in the elections. He’s whispering in Olmert’s ear of his unhappiness and the prime minister is losing heart.
To me, this is unconscionable. Only a country with unstable or two-faced political leaders takes a year or more to negotiate a deal with an enemy and then tries to alter the terms in its favor at the last minute. What does Israel think? That Hamas is so eager to do a deal that it will cave to this ploy? Could Israel really believe this? Or do the Israeli pols care so little about Gilad Shalit’s return that they’d risk blowing up the deal to score nationalist political points and look tough before the electorate?
The ball is in Israel’s court. It got this far towards releasing Shalit. If it wants a deal it knows what the terms are. If it doesn’t it can play games as it has and risk losing everything. Hamas has very little to lose and certainly doesn’t need this deal as much as Israel