Gaza, Asharq Al-Awsat- Informed sources have told Asharq Al-Awsat that one of the key issues that impede reaching a comprehensive deal on the exchange of POW’s between the Hamas movement and Israel–a deal that provides for the release of the captive Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, and more than 1,000 Palestinian POWs– is the disagreement over Israel’s position on the POWs of occupied Jerusalem and of the Palestinians of 1948.
These sources said that Hamas underscored the need for the release of all of the POWs of Jerusalem and of the Palestinians of 1948. This is because a large number of them were sentenced to life imprisonment and because of most of them were affiliated with Hamas and contributed to many bombing operations inside Israel during the Al-Aqsa uprising. Against this stance, Israel strongly refuses to release any of these POWs on the grounds that they are Israeli citizens holding Israeli Identity cards, and that their release would be a serious precedent that could encourage others to pursue the same path.
According to these sources, the German mediator proposed substituting those POWs for Arab detainees, something that Hamas rejected. These sources noted that Israel agreed to release all the detainees who are residents of the West Bank and the Gaza strip, and whom Hamas demanded they be released, including leaders and activists of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas movement’s military wing, and who were convicted of killing and wounding hundreds of Israeli soldiers and settlers. Israel said these detainees can be released in the first phase of the deal concurrently with the hand over of Shalit to Egypt.
According to these sources, Hamas agreed to the deportation of a number of detainees out of Palestine after a number of Arab countries, notably Syria, Yemen, Sudan, and Qatar, have expressed preparedness to receive the liberated Palestinian detainees. These sources asserted that the United States played a role in urging certain Arab countries to help quickly close the POW’s exchange deal.
In another development, Palestinians and Israeli sources had different assessment of the impact of the videotape, which Hamas handed over to Israel and in which Shalit looked in good health, on any future exchange of POWs deal. Some Palestinian sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that airing the videotape on Israeli television would bring pressure to bear on the Binyamin Netanyahu government to quickly reach a deal, whereas other sources believed that handing the videotape to Israel was an erroneous gesture because the videotape showed Shalit alive and in good health, which would give the Israeli government a margin for prevarication.
A number of Israeli commentators called on the Netanyahu government to postpone agreement on an exchange deal until after the Palestinian elections so as to deny Hamas any opportunity to portray the deal as a new victory. Ben Kaspit, apolitical and security commentator in the Israeli paper Ma’ariv, known for his close ties with higher Israel political and security officials, said that a deal should be made at least six months after the Palestinian elections. He warned that a deal on POWs before the elections would constitute a stab in the back of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, Abu-Mazin, and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who have proved capable of improving the security situation in the West Bank and of dealing a strong blow to Hamas.