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Ron Ben-Yishai
Shalit case in deep freeze
Op-ed: Shalit talks deadlocked for 10 months; Negotiator Hadas’ departure will have no effect
Hagai Hadas’ decision to no longer handle the Gilad Shalit affair will not delay or undermine the negotiations on releasing the abducted soldier. The reason for this is simple: For some 10 months now, the talks had been deadlocked.

 

Moreover, Hadas did not serve as the mediator in the Shalit affair, but rather, as the Israeli government’s representative for the talks, which were managed via German mediator Gerhard Conrad. Hence, Hadas’ influence on the outline of a deal or Shalit’s release terms was limited. He could offer his advice, but had no mandate to make even slight changes in the proposed deal, approved about a year ago by the prime minister, defense minister, security cabinet and the forum of top seven government ministers.

 

Hadas was also unable to undertake indirect actions in order to press Hamas’ leadership and prompt it to reconsider its positions – for example, introducing stricter detention terms for Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails. Hence, his resignation mostly reflects the extent of the impasse and futility of the efforts to secure Shalit’s release.

 

The Shalit negotiator explained his departure by referring to “personal reasons,” pertaining to his family. He said that after being appointed to the post he informed the prime minister that he intends to quit after no more than two years.

 

Hadas maintain excellent, warm ties with the Shalit family, which trusts him fully, as opposed to its flawed relationship with his predecessor, Ofer Dekel. Hence, we can assume that had the Shalit talks been active at this time, or at least if there was some hope for their resumption and some progress, Hadas would not have resigned (or alternately, the PM would have made a greater effort to convince him to stay on.)

 

Gaza says yes, Damascus says no

A quick reminder: About a year ago, the German mediator presented Hamas’ leadership with Israel’s last offer for a Shalit prisoner swap. The mediator said the Israeli proposal was “generous,” because for the first time it included agreement to free terror leaders who initiated attacks and dispatched murderers to Israel and the territories.

 

The only condition set by the government was that these terror leaders, who were West Bank residents, will not return to their homes, but rather, head to the Gaza Strip or to states that would agree to receive them. This was meant to ensure they will not be able to rehabilitate Hamas’ terror infrastructure in Judea and Samaria in a way that jeopardizes Israelis and the Palestinian Authority’s rule.

 

While Hamas’ leadership in Gaza leaned towards accepting the offer, the group’s leadership in Damascus, headed by Khaled Mashaal, did not. Damascus, which is militant by nature, was also affected by the tough position of Ahmed Jabari, the leader of Hamas’ military wing in Gaza, and by prisoner leaders held in Israel.

 

As result of these disagreements, Hamas did not officially respond to mediator Conrad to this day. Unofficially, Hamas heads made it clear that the main and largely only obstacle for them is the issue of expulsion. They demanded that all freed West Bank detainees return to their homes regardless of their past or the threat they pose in the future.

 

However, the Israeli government, in line with the recommendation of both Shin Bet and Mossad chiefs (Diskin and Dagan,) insists on the demand to expel terror leaders, in order to safeguard the lives of its citizens.

 

That’s the situation at this time, and it isn’t expected to change soon because Hamas is encouraged by the Arab world turmoil and believes it boosts the Islamic elements that support it. First and foremost, Hamas is encouraged by the softer attitude emerging on the part of the new regime in Egypt.

 

In Israel, however, we may see possible change. Meir Dagan completed his term as Mossad chief, Major General Benny Gantz replaced Ashkenazi as army chief, and Shin Bet Director Diskin will be retiring soon. While the positions of the new top officials are likely similar to those of their predecessors, the very change at the top creates an opportunity for creative thinking regarding the Shalit affair, including the possibility of releasing the soldier via some kind of a diplomatic move, or through a military operation.

 

 

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