Ofer Dekel and Yuval Diskin were sent to Egypt and authorized by the prime minister to present his terms for the Shalit prisoner swap. The room for maneuver Olmert gave his emissaries, alongside the implied ultimatum to Hamas, was meant to create the proper combination between stick and carrot.
Olmert’s announcement whereby this is the last day he will be willing to negotiate with Hamas – before handing over the issue to the rightist government to be formed in Israel – was meant to convey an implied threat, letting Hamas know there is no chance it will be able to secure better terms in the near future. This is the stick. Yet the shin Bet director’s presence in Cairo is the carrot – it is meant to make it clear to Hamas that Israel is willing to show flexibility and finalize a deal, and what’s no less important, it is meant to legitimatize the deal in the eyes of government ministers and Israeli public opinion.
We should also keep in mind that should the government approve the deal, the list of Palestinian prisoners to be freed will be published on the Internet. Those who wish to appeal it – and there will likely be quite a few – would be able to turn to the High Court and to the president (who must approve the pardon of some of the prisoners.) The signature of the Shin Bet director is essential in overcoming these two obstacles.
Yet meanwhile, on the other side too many elements with conflicting interests are involved in the issue.
For the sake of simplifying the matter, we shall divide Hamas’ leadership to two camps: The uncompromising camp – headed by Khaled Mashaal in Damascus and Ahmed Jabari, the group’s military wing commander in Gaza, and the pragmatic camp, headed by Mashaal’s deputy Moussa Abu Marzouk and Gaza political leader Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar.
The first camp wants a deal that can be presented as the unconditional surrender of Israel to Hamas – this would enable the group to erase Israel’s achievements in Operation Cast Lead and present a political and military victory that would draw support on the Palestinian street. This is also very important for Hamas in the context of reconciliation talks with Fatah currently being held in Cairo. Iran also supports the Mashaal’s and Jabari’s approach.
The pragmatic camp wants the same thing, yet its leaders believe that quickly rebuilding the Strip by opening the crossings and agreeing on a lull are more important in order to position the movement as the dominant element within Palestinian society. They view this as an issue that is more important than a few “heavyweight” names of murderers who will be released or exiled (to Syria or Gaza.)
Genuine dilemmaCredible Palestinian sources say that the debate between the two camps continues at this time. In talks held by Ofer Dekel recently, and mostly last week in Cairo, Hamas representatives showed certain flexibility and willingness to make concessions. However, the gap still exists, or at least existed as of Thursday. We can assume that over the weekend, various elements within Hamas’ leadership were engaged in intense talks and debates.
Hamas leaders are facing a genuine dilemma. On the one hand, they know that should the negotiations with Olmert fail to secure a deal, the release of terrorists will be postponed by several months, prompting the fury of hundereds of families pressing for a quick deal. Moreover, the full opening of the crossings, the rebuilding of Gaza, and a new lull would also be postponed. There’s also the danger of the Netanyahu government embarking on a new round of fighting in order to c complete the job of Operation Cast Lead.
On the other hand, according to credible sources, Hamas’ leadership estimates that negotiations with Netanyahu’s representatives will not start from scratch, but rather, continue from the current position, and that Israel’s new PM won’t embark on a military operation as not to jeopardize the prospects of freeing Shalit.
At this time, nobody in Israel knows or is willing to estimate whether Hamas formulated its final position, and whether such position would allow for a deal that government members, and mostly Olmert, would be willing to approve. Therefore, it is very possible that by tomorrow the government would need to make a fateful decision, as it weighs the approach of politicians and security officials willing to pay the full price demanded by Hamas vis-à-vis the “not at any price” approach of others.