In previous posts I’ve explained how the US and Israel’s policies strengthen Hamas on the expense of the Palestinian Authority, and most notably, Abu-Mazen.
The prisoner exchange deal – which reportedly is about to be signed soon – will make things even worse for the Palestinian president. The timing of the deal – which could have taken place months, even years ago – makes me believe that Netanyahu’s diplomatic plan which is about to be announced is not a serious effort to restart the peace process, but rather another attempt to contain the international pressure his government is facing.
The sad part is that the US administration plays into the hands of Netanyahu.
Israel is currently holding around 11,000 Palestine in its prisons (many of them without a trail, including hundreds of teens). That’s thousands of Gilad Shalits. Releasing hundreds of them – including PLO people – will be Hamas’ greatest achievement since the Israeli unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. In a time when Israel is depriving Abu-Mazen from any significant gain, it is handing Hamas one of its greatest victories, well worth the suffering and the victims of Cast Lead.
We are at a critical crossroad. If Netanyahu releases the prisoners, and than gets US approval for its partial settlement freeze, it will be a death blow to Abu-Mazen (and to the new administration’s credibility). I really hope the Americans understand that.
Akiva Eldar raised the same issue today in Haaretz.
Who wins and who loses from the deal today? Dr. Mati Steinberg, who was adviser on Palestinian affairs to three heads of the Shin Bet security service, answers without hesitation – the winner is Hamas and the loser is Fatah, headed by Mahmoud Abbas. The bigger winner is Iran and the biggest loser is Israel.
The Jerusalem-based Middle East expert stresses it was long possible to free Shalit “and [it] should have been done without upsetting the balance of power among the Palestinians in favor of Hamas. Steinberg predicted Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak would pull out the Shalit card as soon as there was a crisis in the diplomatic process. At a closed conference two weeks ago in Shefayim, Steinberg said both of them had given up on the attempt to solve the conflict with Fatah in favor of continuing with Hamas.
Why just now did Israel decide to hand over the village of Ghajar to the Lebanese? Why is the Syrian channel being brought back to the headlines? What led Netanyahu precisely now to revive the conflict with President Barack Obama around East Jerusalem?
Steinberg has an answer: to distract attention from the burial of the partner to a two-state agreement. No less.
Personally, I think Israel should go ahead with the deal. Shalit, who was taken from his tank, is not a hostage – as most Israelis refer to him – but a POW, and this is how you bring POWs back home (By the way, the international community should have been much tougher on Hamas for depriving Shalit the rights he deserves as prisoner of war according to the Geneva Convention. In this case, Israel is right in accusing the world of applying double standards). But the Israeli government should be aware of the implications of the deal on the PA, and hand Abu-Mazen with some real gains as compensation: maybe a substantial release of PLO prisoners, a full settlement freeze, or any other move that will make it clear that he, and not Hamas, is our partner for the diplomatic process.