Has Israel Made Its Final Offer To Hamas On Shalit?


shalit1Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff report: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s announcement during yesterday’s cabinet meeting that no deal had been reached to free captive soldier Gilad Shalit – and that it¬†wasn’t clear if such a deal would be achieved – is more than just a routine report on the negotiations.Netanyahu, who leaves tomorrow for Egypt, is also trying to reduce Hamas’ expectations. Israel wants to send Hamas a message that the last offer it made via German mediator Gerhard Conrad, whose name was revealed in the German press, really is the last offer, with no extra sales or buy one get one free.

The problem, of course, is that Israel’s conduct so far has not bolstered this impression. The fact that Israel has changed its negotiating position, along with the 48 dramatic hours of last week’s meetings of the forum of seven senior cabinet members, gave Hamas the (false?) hope that it could extract a few more concessions.

After the last round of offers and counter-offers, Israeli representatives provided some data on the negotiations. They said Hamas demands the release of 450 prisoners considered serious offenders, of which Israel approved 325 in March. Hamas recently sent a list of 170 more names, of which Israel chose 124 names last week. Israel demands the deportation of 123 terrorists considered particularly dangerous. Ultimately, 980 terrorists will be released in the deal, in addition to the 20 women freed in October for the video of Shalit.

It may be that Hamas is wrong this time in assessing the Israeli position. Netanyahu does not have unlimited ability to maneuver, and the officials involved are not just responsible for getting Shalit back, but also for security in the territories after a deal. Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin isn’t going to approve just any transaction.

The developments in the Shalit talks, which at the moment seem like they have a long way to go, should be seen as part of many events in the territories. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas is in increasing distress because the iron wall Egypt is building on the Gaza border threatens to halt smuggling through tunnels. That would make it very hard to bring long-range rockets into Gaza and worsen the feeling that the Strip is a pressure cooker; this could increase tension with Israel.

In the West Bank, there has been a rise in Palestinian attacks on settlers. Yesterday a young Israeli woman sustained moderate injuries when Palestinians threw a firebomb near Chevron, days after Rabbi Meir Chai of the Shavei Shomron settlement was killed in a shooting attack near Nablus and the army hunted down his killers.

At this point it’s not clear if there is a connection between the events on the Israeli-Palestinian front and the recent blast in the Beirut area where Hezbollah is based. Two low-level Hamas operatives were killed by bombs placed under a car belonging to a senior Hamas official. Since 2000, at least 10 such attacks have taken place in Lebanon and Syria, targeting operatives from Hezbollah, Hamas and a few small Palestinian factions. In most cases, the Arab press attributed the attacks to Israel. So far, Hamas has refrained from making any explicit accusations.

{Haaretz/Yair Alpert-Matzav.com Israel}