VIDEO - "Pressure Hamas" - that's the key message a new initiative working to help free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit is trying to get across in Gaza.
At a time when the talks between Israel and Hamas over the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit appear hopelessly stagnated, a forum called Smart Middle East has prepared a short Arabic-language video appealing to the families of those Palestinian prisoners in a bid to force Hamas back to the negotiations table.
Circulated through e-mail, automated phone recordings and even video-sharing powerhouse YouTube - the appeal urges families to pressure Hamas into bringing their loved ones home.
"Hamas is using the issue of Shalit to safeguard its rule in Gaza. We know that behind closed doors you weep as any father or mother would. Hamas is to blame for the delay. Call Hamas and let your voice be heard!" The video intones, its message juxtaposed with images of Palestinian prisoners incarcerated in Israeli facilities.
"You have to speak to the other side in Arabic to get the message across," says Eli Avidar, head of the Smart Middle East forum and Israel's former consul to Qatar. Avidar also served as senior advisor to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"The deal is being held up, but not because of the price or the number of prisoners. Hamas, as opposed to Hizbullah, has no interest in this deal because they see Shalit as their insurance card. But this appeal can help because Hamas is sensitive to its public. They swept the elections because they understand the public, and this initiative appeals to the public," said Avidar.
'5-star resort for prisoners'
The forum is also championing an initiative calling for Israel to downgrade the conditions for jailed Palestinian prisoners.
"Israel is holding thousands of Hamas prisoners under regular incarceration terms, it (Israel) must use this card to secure Shalit's freedom. Though the video and the phone recordings we hope Hamas will be pressured into working to release its prisoners, who are very important to the Palestinian public," said Avidar.
"It's inconceivable that while an IDF soldiers is being held by Hamas in the harshest of conditions, Hamas' prisoners in Israel are living in a five-star resort. If we worsen their conditions, we up the pressure their families will put on Hamas, thereby helping Shalit.
"The absurd thing is that we're blaming the Egyptian mediator when he didn't have the right tools to
succeed. (The forum) believes that our leadership over the past 30 years doesn't understand how to operate in the Middle East. You can't talk to Hamas about a 'price' in terms of 200 or 400 prisoners, because the price will immediately go up," he said.
"The (Israeli) public doesn't know how much the Palestinian prisoners influence Hamas. And so what do we do? We give them a hotel instead of downgrading the conditions to the minimum stipulated by the Geneva Convention.
"The government's initiatives are useless. The government is offering money for information (about Shalit), but we are appealing to the families' emotions. The appeal isn't inflammatory, it speaks with a clear voice."