Israel sent a message to Hamas today that the final date for reaching an agreement on a prisoner exchange will be Sunday night. The head of the Shin Bet security service and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s envoy to the talks on releasing captured soldier Gilad Shalit left for Cairo today in a last-ditch effort to reach a deal with Hamas. On Monday the cabinet will hold a special meeting to discuss the Shalit case and will vote on any deal.
Palestinian sources have said the main obstacle in the negotiations is a dispute over the number of prisoners to be expelled after they are released from prison.A senior source in the Prime Minister’s Bureau said today that this is the final push before Israel’s new government takes over after last month’s elections.
“There is still no breakthrough. This is the final effort. There is time until Sunday night to reach a deal,” the senior source said. “This can turn into a deal but it can also get stuck. If there is an agreement it will be possible to hold a vote in the cabinet on Monday.”
Olmert aides stressed today that by Tuesday the Knesset will be presented with the coalition agreements of Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government for approval.
It appears that with the help of Egyptian mediators, Israel and Hamas have reached a deal in which a large number of Palestinian prisoners will be released in return for Shalit. But there are still names of prisoners pending, and there is no final agreement on the security arrangements.
This is the reason Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin participated in talks in Cairo last week, to discuss the expulsion to the Gaza Strip or abroad of some of the released prisoners.
“It is necessary to reach a deal that will also assuage the Shin Bet, so Diskin has joined the negotiations,” a senior political source said.
Last week Olmert’s special envoy, Ofer Dekel, and Diskin held three days of indirect talks with Hamas representatives, with the assistance of Egyptian intelligence officials.
Yesterday, Dekel and Diskin briefed Olmert on the developments; the prime minister gave final instructions and sent the two officials back to Cairo for a final set of talks.
Olmert also briefed Prime Minister-designate Netanyahu on the developments.
The purpose of the special cabinet meting on Monday is for “updating the cabinet on the talks for the release of the abducted soldier and to present the current situation before the new government takes over, probably later in the week,” a source in Olmert’s bureau said.
If a deal is reached and approved, the exchange will begin with the release of 300 prisoners in return for the transfer of Shalit to Egypt, where his parents will be able to visit him. Then 150 more prisoners will be released and Shalit will be brought to Israel.
Palestinian sources say that in the deal being formulated, Israel will release the 450 prisoners Hamas named, including convicted killers and planners of suicide bombings.
Saturday, a Hamas representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, said the group refused to accept the expulsion of any of the released prisoners.
But an Egyptian source said that “there are still disagreements on the names that will be released, not only about the expulsions.”