Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- As Cairo announced the postponement for a short period of time of the Palestinian dialogue that was scheduled to be held next Sunday [22 February], the Egyptian Government and the Arab League [AL] rejected the sudden Israeli decision to link the calm with the Palestinians to the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Egypt and the AL warned of the danger that this step poses to the calm efforts which might take the entire process back to square one “and to before the Arab and internationally-backed efforts to stop the war on the Gaza Strip last month.”
An authoritative official at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry yesterday accused Israel of prevarication and told Asharq Al-Awsat: This sudden change in the Israeli stand reflects the recent elections’ results, is not in the interest of peace, and does not help its efforts. It pointed out that the Egyptian initiative for a ceasefire and calm between Israel and the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, which is backed by the concerned Arab and other countries, did not include the release of soldier Shalit during the present stage of trying to consolidate the calm. This issue could have been included in subsequent calm negotiations dealing with swapping Palestinian prisoners with the Israeli soldier.
AL Secretary General Amr Musa described Tel Aviv’s decision “as part of the Israeli prevarication and an attempt to get what it wants without making any concessions” and pointed out in statements yesterday “there should be absolutely no linkage between the calm and Shalit’s release” and noted that “this is bound to disrupt many things.”
Ambassador Muhammad Subayh, the AL’s assistant secretary general for Palestine and occupied Arab territories affairs, expected the situations in the region to become worse than they were before the war on Gaza and warned in statements to “Al-Sharq al-Awsat” that Israel’s decision “could complicate the atmospheres and create despair and frustration in the region and the world regarding the issue of peace.” He said such stands “show Israel what it is truly is, an occupation, aggressive, and racist state.” He pointed out that all the Arabs were backing the Egyptian effort to achieve the calm which Israel accepted but which did not include the Shalit dossier “as it is supposed to be an independent one. Israel negotiated and talked on the bases that the Shalit dossier was an independent one.”
Ambassador Subayh “urged the United States, EU, Russian Federation, and the United Nations (which make up the Quartet for Middle East peace) to use their influence, back the Egyptian stand, and compel Israel to observe the calm” and said “all the parties are required to pressure Israel and the Arab countries are required to express to Israel’s public, the world, and the international parties clearly and decisively that this is unacceptable from Israel.”
Dr Mustafa al-Fiqqi, chairman of the Egyptian parliament’s foreign relations committee, expressed his surprise at Israel’s step and said this means Israel is placing the calm between it and the Palestinians in a blocked road and added to Asharq Al-Awsat: “There was no agreement on Shalit right from the start. Egyptian President Husni Mubarak personally said this.” He added: “What we are seeing is the usual Israeli thinking about getting as much gains as possible under any circumstances. Unless Israel changes its stand under pressure, decides on another deal in return for Shalit, and the two deals proceed in parallel (the calm and Shalit deals), we will reach a dead end.”
Muhammad Abdul-Al (Abu-Abir), the Al-Nasir Salah-al-Din Brigades’ spokesman, told Asharq Al-Awsat “we will not release Shalit unless our demands are met. These are the release of 1,450 prisoners”, among them 450 who were given long jail sentences, are sick, and the leaders, and 1,000 others, among them children, women, Legislative Council members, and ministers. He added: “We are not in a rush. If Israel wants Shalit released, then it must implement our demands immediately, which are the release of our prisoners, and we will hand Shalit over to the Egyptians immediately.”