Friday, November 27, 2009

Negotiations underway to release Gilad Shalit

This note came in today from the Conservative Friends of Israel. If the Shalit / Barghouti deal goes through, it signals the beginning of hope for a peace process:

· Israel and Hamas are currently trying to broker a deal that would end the three and a half year captivity of captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.
· Details came to light on Sunday 22 November when Israeli President, Shimon Peres, signalled signs of movement in the stalled negotiations of Shalit’s release, stating that ‘real progress has been made…but the details must be kept behind the scenes’.
· Following this statement, Hamas sources confirmed that a deal could be sealed within days.
· It is thought that the deal will involve exchanging Shalit for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.
· According to a Palestinian source, Israel will release a total of 1,150 Palestinian prisoners in the deal, which is due to take place in three stages.
· The first exchange will require 450 terrorists to be freed, after which Shalit will be transferred to Egypt.
· Israel will then release the rest of the prisoners in two stages, after which Shalit will be brought to Israel.
· The Palestinian source has also stated the Egyptian mediators are seeking to complete the deal as a comprehensive package in which Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, will also be involved.
· The mediators want Abbas’ Fatah movement to reach a reconciliation agreement with Hamas which would include the announcement of a truce with Israel, and the opening of the Gaza Strip’s border crossings where Palestinian Authority policemen would be deployed.
· It is thought that the prisoner exchange will take place next week after the Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha, which ends on Monday.
· Amongst the Palestinian prisoners rumoured to be released is Fatah activist Marwan Barghouti, who is currently serving five life sentences in Israel for his role in a series of deadly terrorist attacks during the second intifadah.
· If Barghouti is released it could have far-reaching strategic implications on the internal Palestinian balance of power and attempts to strike a peace deal with Israel, as it is thought that he will run for President in the Palestinian elections.
· For several years the two main Palestinian factions – Fatah and Hamas – have been deadlocked in fierce rivalry that has led to the division of the Fatah-controlled West Bank from the Gaza Strip violently seized by Hamas in June 2007.
· However, the release of Barghouti may mark a turning point in the relations between the two factions if he succeeds Mahmoud Abbas as the head of Fatah and perhaps as Palestinian president.
· In recent days, Barghouti has been explicit in his support for Palestinian unity between rival factions, noting that this is the single most important challenge facing the Palestinian leadership.
· In addition, the exchange will considerably complicate attempts to re-start peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as the prisoner release is being attributed to Hamas.
· Undoubtedly, Hamas will use the Shalit deal to re-shape the Palestinian internal balance of power by claiming that they brought Israel to its knees.
· The release of prisoners held in Israeli jails is a pivotal and symbolic part of Palestinian discourse across the political spectrum. Hamas will seek to portray a deal as a vindication of its path of violent resistance and terror.
· If they succeed in including Barghouti in the prisoner release, Hamas will hope to improve their image as a party acting for the greater Palestinian national interest.
· In seeking to abate the negative effects on Abbas, Israel has announced a 10 month settlement freeze on construction in the West Bank and pardoned terrorists, so as to immediately resume stalled peace talks.
· It is likely that further steps will be forthcoming in an effort to persuade Abbas to re-enter negotiations.
· It is also rumoured that Ahmad Sadat, a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Ibrahim Hamed, the former commander of Hamas’ military wing and the mastermind behind the 2002 terror bombing at the Moment cafĂ© in Jerusalem, will be released as part of the prisoner exchange.