The release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit should be the first issue of discussion in truce negotiations, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Defense Minister Ehud Barak during a Sunday meeting on advancing talks on an Israel-Hamas ceasefire.
"First Gilad's release and then all of the other issues," Olmert said to Barak. The two, along with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, were attempting to consolidate an proposal on a ceasefire to agreement to present to the national security cabinet and the full cabinet.
As of Sunday, Olmert appeared insistent on his earlier publicized stance that opening Gaza crossings be contingent upon Shalit's release. It is believed that open crossings and a release of Palestinian prisoners will be the price for Shalit's freedom.
No timetable was discussed during the meeting, despite a desire to expedite the proceedings. The cabinet is expected to meet to discuss a proposal next week, but a precise date has not been scheduled.
According to a formal statement by the Prime Minister's Office, Olmert, Barak and Livni will correspond in upcoming days in order to consolidate such a proposal and will convene a meeting of the national security cabinet, which is the governmental body that must approve the details of the deal.
Despite the dialogue, Olmert's stance appears to remain unchanged. "First Shalit will be home and then the crossings will be open. The prime minister repeated this," his office reported.
Three phases for exchangeSecurity sources have said that a deal for Shalit will likely take place in three stages, the first of which will likely include the partial opening of crossings and the release of some 350 Palestinian prisoners. Some names on this list have yet to be approved by the relevant ministerial committee, headed by Vice Premier Haim Ramon.
"In the second stage, Shalit will be transferred to Egyptian protection and another 550 'intermediate level' terrorists will be released as a gesture to (Egyptian President) Mubarak," the sources said.
"In the third phase, with Shalit's return to Israel, the crossings from Israel to Gaza will be opened completely and another 400 prisoners accused of 'lighter' offenses, most of the women, elderly prisoners or teenagers, will be released," they said, noting that "in sum, between 1,200 and 1,400 Palestinian prisoners will be released."
Arms smuggling prevented?
In exchange, as per statements made by the prime minister during Sunday's meeting, the Palestinians are expected to commit to a complete ceasefire and the prevention of arms smuggling, in addition to the return of the kidnapped soldier.
A contentious issue in ceasefire discussions in the issue of the Rafah crossing, which would change the security picture on the ground because of the Egyptian involvement necessary to operating it. It is unclear at this point whether the Egyptians will be willing to undertake such a responsibility.
Given the infighting between Hamas and Fatah, it appears unclear whether Hamas forces in Gaza will allow Palestinian Authority forces affiliated with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to serve in the area, as per a 2005 agreement between Israel and the PA regarding Rafah crossing.
European political sources have expressed their willingness to renew the deployment of neutral observers in this capacity.