Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Tug of War Continues over Abducted Soldier

New developments in the Hamas-Israel cease fire have hinted again at both sides' unwillingness to make a deal. Israel has, throughout the negotiations, insisted that the release of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit be part of a cease fire. Hamas' biggest request is the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange. Both sides have now conceded at least part of the other's request, but yet both sides still maintain the other is not willing to compromise.

Hamas yesterday released a letter from Shalit to his family in which he states he is being treated well but he wants the government to secure his return as soon as possible. Hamas released a statement today saying that Israel should, in turn, release some Palestinian prisoners as a show of good faith. Hamas leaders suggested releasing women prisoners or minors as a compromise and step toward a truce. Israel has not responded to that request.

Instead, Israel says:
A defense source involved in the efforts to gain Shalit's release said Tuesday that the letter Hamas delivered to Shalit's family, via the Carter Center in Ramallah, was not related to the attempts to conclude a truce, and its timing was coincidental. "The letter was delayed for some time for a variety for reasons," the source said.

He added that the talks with Hamas over a prisoner exchange are at an impasse because of the group's unwillingness to be flexible.
On the other side of the fence, Hamas has created a list of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners to be released as part of a cease-fire agreement. It has not confirmed that Shalit would be released in return. Israel has approved 70 names on that list, but Hamas has still not returned reassurances that Shalit will be traded for these prisoners. Israel has denied the release of the other prisoners on the list "because they were directly responsible for the murder of Israelis."

The sheer number of prisoners on the wish list brings up some questions and concerns. Firstly, what are the other 70 guilty of that they could all be released in exchange for one man? It brings to mind a statistic: 40% of the adult male Palestinian population has seen the inside of a prison. And by "adult" I mean post-pubescent, not the traditionally acceptable boundary of 18 years or older. This statistic makes it abundantly clear that Israel is a bit jail-happy. They don't need much of a reason to throw Arabs in jail, and keep them there. So their willingness to release 70 convicted criminals makes me wonder what exactly those criminals were convicted of. Perhaps throwing stones. Perhaps organizing a political movement. Perhaps associating with members of Hamas, Fatah, or Hezbollah. The bottom line is that, by Israel's own admission, they are not responsible for any deaths.

But as missiles continue to be fired into Israel from Gaza on a daily basis, the people responsible for Israeli deaths will be a government which does not take any and all steps necessary to secure a cease-fire.

But instead, Olmert and his cronies are trying to drum up support for a sweeping Gaza operation that will mean the deaths of far more Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians than have been killed by Hamas' rockets.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met with the heads of the defense establishment Tuesday in preparation for today's diplomatic-security cabinet meeting. No details of their meeting were released, as Olmert and Barak said they would prefer to keep Israel's intentions secret from Hamas.

"We must not talk very much," Barak told the full cabinet Tuesday. "When the moment is right, we will take action. It is important that the cabinet listen well to what the army says can be achieved, and what cannot be achieved, via an operation in the Gaza Strip."
Israel has discussed a third option: resuming assassinations of Hamas' leaders, which would pressure the group to accept Israel's terms for the cease-fire.

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