Cairo, Washington and the Hamas leadership are in talks aimed at bringing former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter to the Gaza Strip, Egyptian paper al-Mesryoon reported today. The report in the paper, which is affiliated with the Islamic opposition in Egypt, was not confirmed by any official sources.
According to the report, the purpose of the visit is to hold negotiations with Hamas heads in the Strip on a deal in which captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit would be returned to Israel in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners.
The paper further stated that if such a visit were to take place, it would be the most prominent sign of the Obama administration’s openness towards Hamas, following unofficial talks between American diplomats and the movement’s heads in Damascus.
The presidents, if they do in fact visit the Strip, are also slated to address the Israeli blockade on Gaza, Hamas’ international isolation, and the movement’s recognition in the international arena in exchange for certain guarantees.
The possibility of Clinton’s involvement in talks for Shalit’s release was raised during Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to the United States earlier this month.
Netanyahu met with Clinton in New York and noted the former president has a reputation for freeing captives, and mentioned Clinton’s visit to North Korea last august in order to secure the release of two American citizens sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Clinton himself had sent former President Carter on a similar mission in Pyongyang during his term as president.
Meanwhile, as the Shalit family continues its struggle for the soldier’s release, and has set up a protest tent outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, Palestinian sources in Gaza told Ynet last week that negotiations were completely stalled. According to the sources, there have been no meetings or attempts to make progress in the matter for many weeks.
Former president Carter visited the Strip last year and met with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, among others. During his visit Carter handed Haniyeh a letter from the Shalit family for their son. He also asked that the Hamas leadership handle the Shalit matter as humanely as possible.