Saturday, October 28, 2006

Meshal in Cairo - progress on Shalit deal?

Interesting piece. Much has been made in internal discussion within the Foundation of the seeming rift between the Egyptians and the Palestinians over the Meshal issue. It remains to be seen if he and Suleiman have met today, and whether progress has been made. The agreements under discussion here are absolutely vital if diplomacy is to progress.

By Haaretz Correspondents and Reuters, published today:

Osama al-Muzaini, a political leader of the governing Hamas Islamist group and mediator between the Egyptians and the kidnappers of Israel Defense Forces Corporal Gilad Shalit said on Saturday that Israel has agreed on the number of the Palestinian prisoners it is willing to release in exchange for the captured soldier, but has not yet agreed on their identities.

Earlier Saturday afternoon, Hamas downplayed claims by a separate Palestinian militant group of an imminent solution to the kidnapping, saying that while there had been "real progress," a prisoner swap was not about to take place.

Shalit was kidnapped in June during a cross-border raid by the Gaza militants, including members of the Hamas military wing. Two other IDF soldiers were killed in the attack on their base, close to the Gaza border.

The Popular Resistance Committees, another of the three Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip holding Shalit, said earlier in the day that it expected an end to the crisis within days.

A statement by the PRC that the three groups had agreed to an Egyptian proposal for the release of Shalit that would also see an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners freed by Israel. The PRC said the deal now depended on Israel.

Hamas and Fatah officials, however, were less optimistic. Al-Muzaini said: "Real progress has been made over the issue of Shalit but that progress did not get to the point where we can say a swap was imminent."

Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat of Fatah said it was premature to think the crisis would soon be resolved.

"I don't think we're closer today to solving Shalit's problem than we were yesterday," Erekat told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

On Friday the Arabic-language newspaper Al Hayat reported a senior Hamas official in Damascus is demanding that Israel release Palestinian prisoners at the same time that Hamas frees Shalit.

According to the report, Hamas was awaiting an Israeli response to the proposal. The paper quoted the senior Hamas source as saying that the group was expecting Israel to be flexible on the timing of Shalit's release and that of the Palestinian prisoners.

Fatah officials had previously said that an Egyptian prisoner swap proposal calls for an initial release of Palestinian prisoners along with Shalit. The Fatah officials said a small group of prisoners would be freed in the first phase and a larger group would be freed two months later, including Palestinian prisoners considered to be political leaders. Altogether, 1,000 Palestinian prisoners would be released in the exchange.

Commenting on this proposal, Israeli sources said that "Israel can live with such a deal."

More than a week ago, Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman presented Meshal and his aides in Damascus with an initiative that includes the prisoner swap proposal and a deal on the establishment of a national unity government for the Palestinian Authority.

Meshal slated to hold Cairo meeting on Shalit deal
Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas's political bureau, was slated to meet with senior Egyptian officials in Cairo on Saturday to discuss the proposed prisoner exchange. However, it was unclear whether Mehsal will actually attend.

Sources involved in the talks described the meeting as "critical," adding that if Meshal really does come from Damascus to attend the session, he will probably accept the proposed deal.

Israeli and Hamas sources said that they were pessimistic about the chances of a deal actually materializing at the end of the Cairo meeting.

Senior Palestinian sources said Thursday that following the Cairo meetings, further consultations are expected to take place in Damascus among representatives of Fatah, Hamas, Syria, Qatar and Spain in order to solve the unity government conundrum.

The sources explained that Spain is willing to send representatives to these talks in an effort to solve the crisis in the Gaza Strip.

However, a senior Hamas official told Haaretz on Thursday that he is not optimistic that the talks in Egypt will result in either Shalit's release or the establishment of a national unity government.

An Israeli government source similarly said that "there is no reason to get excited about Meshal's visit to Cairo."

Government sources explained that they are not aware of any significant progress having been made in talks about a prisoner exchange.

Noam Shalit, Gilad Shalit's father, told Haaretz on Thursday that he was skeptical about the results of the meeting between Meshal and Suleiman.

He added that not a single Israeli official has reported to him on the government's expectations of this meeting.

"I hope that this meeting will take place and be fruitful. However, as long there is no such meeting, we have nothing to say on this matter," Shalit said.

1 comment:

William said...

A lot that's interesting here. A couple of comments: My understanding was that Egypt always wanted to downplay the importance of Mishal - so inviting him to "sign in Cairo" would not be an option. My understanding is that Mahmoud Zahar, not Mishal, is the Hamas "amir" in any case. One should note, however, that Mishal has "homes" in Damascus, Cairo and Doha - so he is often in Cairo anyway.

The possible Spanish involvment is an interesting angle. There is to be a "Madrid ten years on" NGO conference in Spain this December and Spin is indeed playing more of a role under its radical government (which has VERY close relationships with Damascus at a "family" level).

As for the prisoner deal - I forget the number - 860 or something. It is less than a thousand. The names include categiries of prisoners. i.e. the elderly, the very young, the sick and those who have served very long prison terms already, and those imprisoned without charge - that sort of thing.