The 20th female Palestinian prisoner released by Israel was expected to pass through the Erez crossing on Sunday morning in a move which will complete the deal.
State officials and other sources involved in the talks estimate that the negotiations will continue until before the Palestinian Authority elections, as Hamas seeks to present the public with "achievements". The best way to do so, as they see it, is to bring about the release of heavy murderers serving life sentences in Israel.
Israel knows that the election date has been set in principle for January 2010, but no one in the PA is willing to commit to this timetable. Therefore, if Hamas seeks to present achievements in order to reap political fruits, it could take even longer.
Hamas members are also acting cautiously in regards to the expected schedule. "It's a matter of weeks, or at the most – months," one of Hamas' leaders in the Gaza Strip, Mahmoud al-Zahar said over the weekend.
"We want to end these negotiations as soon as possible," he told German magazine Der Spiegel.
After receiving the clip containing initial information on the kidnapped soldier's condition, Jerusalem officials estimated that there was a foundation for accelerating the talks. However, Israel has no plans to compromise on the names of the prisoners included in the deal and on the places they will be deported to. These prisoners were the bone of contention when the deal reached a deadlock last March.
'Price tag' remains unchanged
The price, as far as Israel knows, has not changed. Hamas is demanding 450 prisoners, including key terror figures and murderers with a lot of blood on their hands. State officials estimate that even if the prime minister and ministers agree to release them, the decision will cause a great amount of rage when the names are revealed to the public.
In addition, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's willingness in principle to advance the negotiations, he plans to "play it tough", according to one of this associates, "and not at any price."
In any event, Netanyahu's office plans to return to the low profile which has characterized the negotiations in the past weeks. This policy, sources close to the prime minister say, has proved itself so far and made the "videotape deal" possible, in order to show the world that Shalit is alive and well in Hamas captivity.
The public's battle over a possible deal is scheduled to continue, with members of the Gilad Shalit Campaign planning several activities. Hundreds of youths are expected to take part Monday in a stretcher march in Jerusalem, which will leave from Mount Herzl to the Prime Minister's Office. On the stretchers the activists will carry messages related to values of friendship, concern and solidarity.
On Thursday, the campaign members are expected to set up 70 stands across the country, particularly at recreation places, with computers recruiting young people and teenagers to "Gilad's army of friends".
Ali Waked contributed to this report