The effort to bring about Israeli prisoner of war Cpl. Gilad Shalit’s release in the last remaining days of Israeli Prime Minister Olmert in office ended in utter failure.
After two days of Egyptian-mediated intensive talks with the Hamas delegation, it became evident Hamas had backed down from understandings that had already been achieved in the past.
The Israeli prime minister’s two envoys – Israel Security Director Yuval Diskin and Ofer Dekel – returned from Cairo empty-handed.
Yesterday, the Israeli cabinet convened for a special meeting during which the ministers received a full report about the recent negotiations with Hamas.
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Sources close to the Israel-Hamas talks told the Israeli media Ahmed Jaabari, the commander of Hamas’ military wing, who headed the delegation to Cairo, adopted an uncompromising position.
Hamas demanded that Israel release all 450 of its members who were convicted of multiple murders and refused the Israeli demand for the relocation of a large number of these convicts to Gaza or to Arab countries, rather than to their West Bank homes.
Hamas also demanded Israel release all of Arab terror convicts with Israeli citizenship, despite previous understandings those convicts would not be included on the list.
Prime Minister Olmert told the ministers at the special Israel government cabinet meeting “that owing to his responsibility as prime minister to safeguard the State of Israel’s national interests, there are red lines that we cannot cross.”
The negotiations likely will continue, if only thanks to the pressure on Hamas from the families of the Palestinian convicts to have their loved ones released. It seems, however, that, barring any unforeseen developments, the negotiations over Cpl. Shalit’s release will be conducted under the incoming prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
However, if anyone believed Hamas would relax its positions in order to sign a deal for Gilad Shalit, last night’s derailment of the deal showed otherwise.
Mr. Jaabari, who also is Israel’s most-wanted man said yesterday: “We are willing to continue to hold onto Gilad Shalit even for another year, until our demands are met.”
Israel let Mr. Jaabari leave Gaza for Cairo by removing him from their “hit list,” in order to speed matters along, so he could make decisions on the spot and place him under pressure from the Egyptian mediators.
However, this didn’t help: Hamas blamed Israel yesterday for the failure of the deal and said its conditions had not been met.
“Israel will bear full responsibility for the Gilad Shalit deal’s derailment,” said Mushir el-Masri last night, a member of the Hamas leadership in Gaza. “The only solution is Israel’s consent to accepting all our terms. Any attempt not to accept them has led to failure. The door to negotiations for a deal on Shalit is still open. The life of the Israeli prisoner is no more precious than the lives of our 11,000 prisoners in Israeli jails.”
Salah Bardawil, a Hamas leader, explained that Hamas had toughened its demands.
“We are demanding 450 prisoners who were sentenced to long terms, in addition to all the women, children, ministers and Palestinian Legislative Council members imprisoned in Israel,” he said. “We will not give up on even one name on the list. If Israel wants the deal, it must meet our demands.”
Even before the Israeli announcement of the talks’ failure an official statement was issued by Hamas’ military wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam saying, “Israel ismoving closer to our positions, and if it wants to end the negotiations, it must release all the prisoners as per our demands.”
The announcement by Hamas’ military wing said it refused to accept a proposal that referred mainly to the deportation of some of the prisoners to Arab countries, or to deport prisoners living in the West Bank to the Gaza Strip.
“For us, this is a first real opportunity to release our prisoners from jail, particularly those sentenced to long terms,” said the spokesman.
A demonstration in support of Hamas’ demands was held on Monday in Gaza. It mainly consisted of mothers and wives of the prisoners who called on the Hamas negotiators not to surrender to Israel. People in Gaza said the demonstration was a signal that Hamas was not surrendering or conceding to Israel’s demands.
David Bedein can be reached at Bedein@thebulletin.us