Even before the video was shot and the “advance deal” was worked out, we saw some very detailed and serious talks being managed between Israel and Hamas through the German mediator. The general principles – the number of prisoners to be freed (but not their names,) the three stages of the deal, and where the released prisoners will be transferred to – have apparently been finalized. Overall, we are talking about roughly 1,000 detainees.
For the time being, the swap of female prisoners in exchange for the videotape constitutes a Hamas propaganda win, which to some extent resolves some of the difficulties it faces in respect to Palestinian public opinion, particularly in Gaza. It needs this achievement in order to blur to some extent the horrific acts it carried out against Fatah members and other rivals, and also in order to obscure the economic distress that stems from the Israeli siege, as well as Hamas’ inability to rebuild Gaza in the wake of Operation Cast Lead.
However, Hamas uses the videotape deal as a temporary “painkiller”; it seeks to keep the great PR achievement – the en masse release of prisoners – to the eve of the Palestinian elections. These are scheduled for January 2010, and the Egyptians are currently working out a reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas that would enable the vote to go ahead.
Hamas greatly fears the elections, which may send it back to the political margins because of the blows it suffered on the domestic public opinion front. A prisoner release may provide it with a means to boost its status and also to prompt the opening of the crossings and lifting of the Gaza Siege, thereby making voters forget past failures.
Sound mental condition
For that reason, say Israeli security officials, we are likely to see Hamas attempting to drag out the negotiations on Gilad’s release until a short time before the elections, whose date has not yet been finalized. The Egyptians hope that this date will be set soon, and once we know it, we may be able to estimate that the soldier’s release will take place several weeks before the vote. In any case, Israeli officials predict that the “grand deal” will take quite a few weeks to be sealed.
The tape itself shows that Gilad’s medical condition is sound, that his wounds – sustained during the abduction – have healed, and most importantly, that his mental state is apparently sound and that he did not break in captivity.
The text he read makes it appear that Gilad himself took part in drafting it – this can be concluded by the good quality Hebrew, in obvious contradiction to the audiotape released more than a year ago, where it was clear that the entire text was dictated by the captors. In the sections Gilad did not help draft, such as the use of the word “Mujahedeen,” he is even smiling.
Gilad wears a Hamas uniform in the tape, a fact meant to stress that he is a military captive and not an abducted civilian. This is apparently the impression that Hamas sought to create – dressing him in a clean uniform, including a standard Hamas belt, was meant to prevent the impression that would have been created had he worn the clothes he was wearing when he was captured: a ripped and blood-stained IDF uniform.