In the last round of talks, in March, when Shin Bet Chief Diskin and Chief Negotiator Dekel demonstratively left Cairo for consultations in Israel, agreement was already reached on several principles. This happened after two and a half years of negotiations; both sides were ready to cut a deal.
Israel agreed to the number: Releasing 450 prisoners. Meanwhile, Hamas agreed that 550 other prisoners will be released as a gesture to Mahmoud Abbas, in line with a list to be prepared by Israel. As part of the gestures to Egyptian President Mubarak, Israel also agreed to release prisoners with “blood on their hands.” Hamas agreed to the principle of expelling some of the detainees, and Israel accepted Hamas’ demand to free east Jerusalem prisoners.
Both sides arrived at the round of talks in March in order to finalize a deal. There were some gaps, but not fundamental ones, and some of them were resolved. Israel agreed to release 325 prisoners on the list handed over by Hamas, including 144 facing expulsion to Gaza.
Hamas wanted the number of expelled prisoners to be lower. The Egyptians told us back then, just like they are telling us now: You’re being foolish; why are you arguing? Today you can release them in the West Bank, and tomorrow you can detain them on any suspicion; even a traffic violation. The Shin Bet objected, but Egypt apparently has other creative solutions.
Another problem remained unresolved: Hamas was supposed to hand over to Israel a list of 125 alternatives for the names on its original list which Israel refused to release. Hamas apparently has such alternate list, which was supposed to be transferred to Israel in March. With a little effort and goodwill, and with another round of talks, this deal can be finalized.
Who got cold feet?
But now there’s a debate: Who exactly got cold feet and shied away at the last moment? In an interview with Smadar Peri published by Yedioth Ahronoth over the weekend, President Mubarak said Israel was at fault. But it’s convenient for the Egyptians to blame Israel while ignoring the fact that Hamas chose, at the last moment, not to present the new list of names it had.
Was it a tactical move aimed at pressuring Israel to make more concessions at the last moment, or did Hamas change its mind? There is no telling. What we know with certainty is that Israel’s representatives decided to protest by packing their bags and going back home. Hamas representatives were stunned. They stayed in Cairo for a few more days, in case the Israelis return. But they didn’t return.
The man who could have pressured Hamas at that junction, while bringing the Israelis back to Egypt – Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman – was in the United States at the time, and the deal fell through. After that we had elections in Israel, followed by the appointment of a new chief negotiator, and for four months now nothing has happened.
According to what we see, everything is ready for a deal to be cut. Almost all details have been finalized – unless someone around here decides to renounce the previous agreements and burn a few more years at the expense of our abducted soldier.