Ron Ben-Yishai

Avoiding past mistakes

Israeli leaders realize crossings deal must not be finalized before Shalit’s release


Egypt and Hamas have been able to reach agreement on almost all aspects of the Gaza lull deal. It was agreed that Hamas will pledge to maintain the lull for a year and a half at least; that it recognizes Israel’s right to respond militarily to every violation – that is, rocket fire or terror attacks originating from the Strip – and that Palestinian gunmen will not be allowed to act or be present less than 200 meters away from the border fence (although Israel demanded 500 meters initially.) In addition, it was agreed that the lull agreement will apply to all armed organizations in Gaza, and that Hamas must enforce this.


In respect to the crossings, there is a general agreement between Egypt and Hamas. All the details have not been finalized yet, but there is a clear outline in principle. We are dealing with three phases: In the first stage, Israel will open the crossings to the Strip to an extent of 70%. In the second phase, Israel will fully open the crossings. In the third stage, after Hamas reconciles with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, the Rafah Crossing from Egypt to the Strip shall be opened, under the supervision of Abbas’ people and international observers.


This deal is hindered by Hamas’ desperate attempt to present the crossings deal as a diplomatic achievement by the organization, rather than capitulation to Israel’s ultimatum that ties the opening of the crossings to progress on the Shalit affair. Hamas wants the first stage in the crossings deal to be implemented before an agreement is reached on Shalit’s release. The Egyptians told Hamas what it wishes to hear, and asked Israel not to publicly contradict their words. However, Olmert, Barak and Livni refused due to a clear intention to refrain from repeating the mistake they made when the previous lull was declared last summer. Back then too, Hamas pledged to accelerate the Shalit negotiations, yet nothing happened.


As to the Gilad Shalit deal, here too we saw progress in recent weeks. First, because Hamas finally renewed the negotiations, clarified its demands in terms of numbers and names, and addressed Israel’s offers. The outline of the deal, which will include two phases, was also finalized in principle. Now, the sides are mostly bargaining on some of the names Hamas demands. We are talking about dozens of names, as well as – you got it - Hamas’ demand that Israel refrain from publicly tying the opening of the crossings to the Shalit deal.


Hamas wishes to make it clear that it is extorting Israel and not vice versa. This is important for the victory photo Hamas wishes to present.


All of the above makes it quite clear that Hamas and Egypt have an interest in announcing a new lull and a deal for opening the crossings as soon as possible. Therefore, they have been disseminating reports to that effect in the Arab media almost daily in recent weeks. It is even possible that Hamas or Egypt, or both, will announce a truce and a crossings deal in the coming days, in an attempt to exert pressure on Israel.


However, Israel realizes it must not let go of the “crossings card” before the Shalit deal is finalized and implemented. Therefore, Hamas and Egypt can keep on exerting pressure and making media statements. As long as Iran, via Khaled Mashaal, hinders any genuine progress on the Shalit front, the crossings shall remain open at the current format, which only enables the transfer of humanitarian aid.


Israel cannot act as though it has all the time in the world. Olmert does not wish to quit before clearing the Gilad Shalit affair off the table. The same is true for Barak and Livni. Unexpected things may also happen, and risks must be minimized. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the security cabinet in Jerusalem will make a decision, this week, on the three main issues, topped by the Gilad Shalit affair.


פרסום ראשון: 02.18.09, 00:39
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