There’s a stepping back now: Mahmoud Abbas is saying today that the Bahraini paper El-Halij misunderstood his statement about a prisoner trade; he says there were arrangements, but they have not born fruit. Meanwhile, Al-Hayat in London now says it erred yesterday in saying that Gilad Shalit was already in Egypt; seems, rather, that Egypt merely confirmed that he is alive.

Does this mean there were simply journalistic misunderstandings? Has the Israeli government, meeting a barrage of criticism at home, backed off? Or are things just being hushed up until the final deal is reached? We’ll have to wait and see.


At the same time, however, Kofi Annan is proceeding with arrangements regarding mediation of a prisoner swap with Hezbollah. He has appointed as his envoy one Lakhdar Brahimi, who, says the Jerusalem Post, is a “fierce Israel critic.” Israel continues to insist that they didn’t request that Annan appoint a mediator. So what’s going on here?


For the international community, it seems be set in stone: “Something” has to be happening in the Middle East at all times. When one initiative or process fails, then another must be speedily whipped out to take its place. There is no sense that sometimes it’s necessary to accept the status quo and wait things out with strength. In order to facilitate matters, now that “realignment” is temporarily dead, the EU is thinking about loosening its preconditions for talks with Hamas. The three preconditions are ending terrorism, accepting previous agreements, and recognizing Israel. But now, says an EU diplomat, “… maybe if you cannot get wholesale adherence by Hamas to these three conditions, why not start with one, and see where that gets us.”

The one he would insist on starting with would be cessation of terrorism. Which, of course, for Hamas is a non-starter. Hamas knows know that it has to yield very little, because the concessions will be made by the Europeans. The decision to stagger the preconditions hasn’t been finalized yet and some nations are holding firm. But an Israeli diplomat expresses concern that if Hamas maintains a hard line, the Europeans will say, “Oopps, maybe we should cave in.”


Condoleezza Rice and Kofi Annan have informed Israel that international forces are ready to take up positions at Lebanon’s airport and seaports to block smuggling of weapons. And so tomorrow Israel will pull out from these locations as UN forces step in. Germany will be carry a bulk of this responsibility; until German troops arrive, Italian, French, British and Greek forces will carry out the mission.

The families of abducted soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser are distressed however, as Olmert and Livni had both promised not to pull out until there was news of the soldiers. Maintaining the blockade provided leverage that will now be lost.

As to news of the soldiers, the fact is that no one on this end knows if they are even alive. The Red Cross has been denied the right to see them, and, as journalist David Bedein has reported, when Jesse Jackson come to town promising to secure information about the soldiers, he came away with words from Hezbollah but no proof that they are alive.

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