Much had been written in recent months about the Gilad Shalit affair. Shady dealers, self-interested parties, self-righteous individuals, singers, PR firms, celebrities, journalists, non-profit groups, banks, ministers and others made Shalit their top priority. Shalit had also become a way to boost one’s publicity, exposure, and reputation.
In the wake of yet another wave of rumors, what are the realistic chances of securing Shalit’s release? Slim, to my regret. Why so?
1. Gilad Shalit is today the main and possibly only asset possessed by Hamas. He is what turns them from a terror gang to a respectable organization that prompts global politicians to meet with its representatives, seemingly for a “humanitarian” purpose but only a naïve individual would believe that. The Shalit negotiations enable Hamas to bring senior group members into and out of Gaza, send them to Egypt and Syria, grant them immunity from assassination, etc. A reasonable person would not give up such an asset. Israel, with its desire to advance a swap, merely reinforced this asset and made it precious.
2. Egypt promised Israel that as long as Shalit is in captivity, it will not open the Rafah crossing, so that he will not be smuggled in. And so, Shalit has become Egypt’s insurance policy to ensure that Gaza will never be connected to Egypt.
3. Israel’s willingness to release Marwan Barghouti amazed Hamas. After all, the group added his name to the list in order to hinder the talks and did not believe for a moment that Israel would agree to it. Do you think Hamas will agree to secure the release of its greatest enemy so that he will prepare Fatah to engage in a military move against Hamas?
4. For Hamas, Shalit and the prisoners are not the number one issue. This issue has no priority. Higher on the list are the issue of a Palestinian unity government, which will not be established, and the issue of the crossings. As long as these issues hit a snag, the talks on a prisoner swap will also hit a dead-end.
5. Hamas is incredibly scared of the huge outcry in the wake of a swap, once it turns out that instead of 12,000 prisoners it made do with the release of 1,400. Each prisoner’s family is certain that her son will be among those released, and this is a real threat on Hamas and its popularity. This is the reason it will prefer to keep the prisoners in jail. Hamas knows that Mahmoud Abbas will only gain from such huge protest.
6. The moment such a swap is completed, Hamas will lose its media glory. Look how Hizbullah disappeared. Without prisoners and a desperate effort to cling to Israel, there is no interest. Hamas does not like this possibility.
7. Senior Hamas figures are currently in Israeli jails. Should they be released, the balance of power between the domestic Hamas and the group’s leadership abroad may change in favor of the domestic branch. Khaled Mashaal, Musa abu-Marzuk and other Hamas leaders in Damascus view this as a threat to their leadership. In their view, Israel is doing them a favor by detaining the authentic domestic leadership.
8. The Israelis are fighting amongst themselves; one brother slams the other; one urges the government to release Shalit at any cost, while another person rejects this; one person demonstrates, while another person protests for the opposite cause. Hamas takes great pleasure in watching this.
9. There were those around here who deluded themselves into thinking that another name added or taken from the list would get the job done. They sent emissaries Ofer Dekel and Amos Gilad, they played with the lists, but this never had a chance. Hamas is facing weighty interests, rather than a list of names, which in any case are not too important at the moment.
10. Finally, we must realize that an organization like Hamas must be in conflict with us; this is its raison d’être. Holding a captive Israeli soldier reinforces its belligerent Islamic ethos. A captive Israeli soldier symbolizes its all-out struggle against Israel; it symbolizes Hamas’ ability to defeat and embarrass Israel. Without Gilad, Hamas will be forced to actually fight Israel, and Hamas is not interested in doing so at this time.