We’ve been through this so many times before, it’s hard to get one’s hopes up in light of similar past announcements which only led to disappointment. But Maan’s story (which Haaretz confirms) seems to be the real deal. The stars in Israel and Palestine are aligning and it looks like this thing could really happen:
A high-ranking source in Hamas said Tuesday a prisoner exchange deal with Israel has been brokered by Egypt and will be implemented by early next month.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal is expected to confirm the agreement late Tuesday.
Abu Mujahid, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, said Israel agreed to its terms and said Mashaal will make the announcement within hours to clarify aspects of the deal.
A spokesman for the armed wing of Hamas also confirmed the deal, telling Reuters that “We are in the process of completing the technical arrangements to complete the deal within days”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed the agreement at an emergency cabinet meeting, saying he concluded arduous negotiations to release Shalit who will be “coming home in the next few days.”
Interesting that Netanyahu, in order to appeal to his far-right flank, has to present the deal as “this is a last ditch effort which could collapse amid rising Arab chaos in the region.” It only confirms how completely out of touch with regional reality these people are:
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said that “a brief window of opportunity has been opened that would possibly lead to Gilad Shalit’s homecoming,” adding: “The window appeared following fears that collapsing Mideast regimes and the rise of extremist forces would make Gilad Shalit’s return impossible.”
Based on previous reports of what has divided the sides in previous failed negotiation efforts, it appears that Israel has released almost precisely the 1,000 prisoners that have been reported earlier, plus Barghouti and Ahmed Sadaat are part of the exchange. Given Sadaat’s alleged involved in Israeli minister Rehavam Zeevi, releasing him will rile the Israeli far right almost as much as releasing Sami Kuntar in an earlier prisoner exchange with Hezbollah which released the remains of Goldwasser and Regev to Israel.
Another matter that’s got to stick in Bibi’s craw is that the Palestinian prisoner release is perceived among Palestinians as a major coup. Israel would rather endure collective national root canal than give Hamas a victory. This alone, would be reason enough for Bibi to have delayed the deal for most of the six years it’s been discussed.
So what made the Israeli prime minister go for a deal he refused previously? I think part of this is the dismal standing Israel enjoys on the world stage. He desperately needs something to repair the damage he’s done internationally to his reputation and Israel’s. And while his popularity isn’t suffering inside Israel, freeing Shalit will, despite right wing rumblings against, redound to his political credit.
What I fear is that all the hard work that led to this day may be lost if the U.S., Israel, and Hamas stop here and don’t go farther in resolving other issues dividing them. This is a golden opportunity for Israel to test Hamas’ willingness to moderate its stance on issues like recognizing Israel, declaring an end to armed resistance, etc. in return for Israel recognizing a Palestinian national unity government including Hamas, ending the Gaza siege, renouncing targeted killings, etc. This should be a grand bargain and shouldn’t stop at prisoner exchanges. If it does, there will be more IDF soldiers captured and more mayhem inflicted on Gaza. And we will be back where we started.
The most important Palestinian prisoner I’m interested in is Marwan Barghouti, because he holds promise as a future PA president and could unite Hamas and Fatah in a coalition government, which in turn could negotiate a deal with an Israeli government (if there ever was one truly interested in making a deal).