- Part 1 of analysis
An agreement in principle on a lull in Gaza has already been achieved, yet there are still some disagreements in respect to the Gaza crossings and to abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. However, as early as this week the security cabinet may make a decisive ruling, as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert does not wish to quit before putting an end to the Shalit affair.
The negotiations currently undertaken by Israel, Egypt, and Hamas are reminiscent of current coalition talks in Israel. In both cases we are seeing a bazaar where several merchants are simultaneously bargaining with each other over various types of goods. In both cases, the participants – including those serving as mediators – have their own interests, ego, domestic factions, and external patrons that all need to be appeased before finalizing a deal. This is the reason why both negotiations progress slowly, despite the fact that the outline of the overall deal to be reached is more or less known.
The imbroglio in the Gaza theater mostly stems from the need to synchronize three deals: A lull deal, a crossings deal, and a swap of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit.
On all three issues there is agreement in principle – more or less - between the sides. In respect to the lull there is even more than an agreement in principle. Yet in respect to the Gilad Shalit deal and the crossings deal, disagreements persist regarding the details, manner of implementation, and the way of coordinating the timelines of the various deals.
The Egyptian mediator is mostly interested in what we refer to as a lull. As long as the fighting in the Strip goes on, Mubarak’s regime sustains heavy pressure by the zealot Muslim camp in Egypt, as well as by the Arab world and the Iranians. Egypt fears domestic unrest and wishes to finalize the matter as quickly as possible so it is not pressured to open its border with the Strip.
Hamas is mostly interested in a crossings deal that will open the goods crossings between Israel and the Strip and between Egypt and the Strip. This will mitigate the Gaza population’s difficult financial situation, enable the Strip’s rehabilitation in the wake of Operation Cast Lead, and also allow Hamas to rebuild its military power. Therefore, Hamas wants to see long hours of operation at the crossings, monitoring by its own people, and the removal of limitations imposed by Israel on all types of goods.
Meanwhile, at this time Israel is mostly interested in a deal that would bring about Gilad Shalit’s release. The three leading figures in the government currently agree that the only pressure lever possessed by Israel vis-à-vis Hamas – without ordering the IDF back into the Strip – is the crossings. Should Israel allow the opening of its crossings with the Strip for more than the current output (30% of the time, quantity, and types of goods,) Hamas will not deliver on its pledge to seriously negotiate Shalit’s release.
Hamas is willing to pledge to Egypt that should Israel open the crossings to an extent of 70%, it will continue to seriously negotiate a deal for the release of the kidnapped soldier. Hamas will receive the rest after Shalit’s release, as long as Israel and Egypt refrain from declaring that the two issues are related.
Initially, Israel was inclined to accept this formula, yet ultimately decided against it. The angry Egyptians were told that until a Shalit deal is not finalized and until the first phase is not implemented, the crossings will not be opened to a greater extent than they are open at this time. This position was uttered many times by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Part 2 of analysis to be published Tuesday night