Deal Making In Israel and the Middle East

Israel's Security Cabinet met Wednesday, February 18, 2009 to debate on an imminent deal with Hamas which includes the freeing of Israeli P.O.W. Corporal Gilad Shalit. 

Since the Gaza war ended on January 17, 2009, when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud OImert declared a unilateral cease-fire, Egypt has been working on a long-term truce deal between Israel and Hamas. This has been difficult, as it involves meeting the demands of Hamas that border crossings will be opened, and the demands of Israel that Shalit will be released. Olmert has now made it clear to Egyptian officials that the release of Shalit must be an integral part of any deal between Israel and Hamas or no deal will happen.  In addition, Israel's Security Cabinet does not seem to want a formalized cease-fire with Hamas at this time.

Israel is expected to free up to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit, releasing many who participated in terrorist attacks against the Jewish state.  Already, critics of the prisoner exchange are preparing to raise their voices in Israel. Those families who lost loved ones in past terrorist attacks are expected to fill the courts with petitions. Israelis will be protesting the release of certain murderers whose crimes are so vicious that Jewish citizens will try and block their discharge from Israeli jails.  

Meanwhile, Egypt is the main interlocutor trying to bring reconciliation between the Palestinians in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. Egyptian negotiators are hoping that both sides will bridge their differences in order to form a national unity government with a peace agenda towards Israel that will coincide with that of moderate Arab states in the region. 

While Israeli political leaders are distracted in trying to form a stable coalition towards a new Israeli government, Olmert is busy working on last minute deals to show the public the advances that were made during his tenure as prime minister.  But, certain agreements could be detrimental to Israel if the current Egyptian negotiations are successful:

  • (1) Hamas will be strengthened by a national unity government with Fatah because it will be a chance for Hamas leaders to come out of isolation and be perceived as working towards the good of Palestinian society.
  • (2) Israel will be pushed into more painful concessions if Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) reconcile their differences and form a partnership. For example, the peace agenda that Egyptian officials are pushing both groups to accept involves the parameters of the Arab Peace Initiative, a plan that some Israeli leaders claim is a "non-starter."
  • (3) A possible long-term truce with Israel, along with reconciliation between various Palestinian groups, will allow Hamas and the PA to consolidate their military forces. As long as Hamas does not change its charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel, it can be expected that any consolidation of troops will be mobilization efforts towards another war with Israel.
  • (4) A formalized cease-fire, if Israel ends up conceding to one, would enable the international community to re-build Gaza's infrastructure, but it also makes room for global leaders to deal with Hamas directly, something that has been "off-limits" until now. This is because Hamas refuses to recognize the state of Israel, will not end the violence, and will not agree to abide by previous peace agreements between the Palestinians and the Jewish State.
  • (5) Unless Egypt is more willing to cut down on arms smuggling, a truce would allow Hamas to continue to build-up its military arsenal allowing it to bring in more sophisticated rockets and more powerful explosive materials through deep underground tunnels along the Philadelphi Corridor.
  • (6) Opening border crossings into Gaza from Israel and Egypt will ease humanitarian suffering for Gazans, but it will also ease restrictions for terrorists who will be able to cross through to get training and finances from radical states in the region. Passage through the borders will also increase the risk of militants escaping into Israel who are intent on perpetuating more terrorist attacks.

Olmert has promised to inform Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu of advancements in Egyptian negotiations, and the Israeli public is preparing for the heavy price the state will pay for Shalit's release.  However, right now, putting together a stable political coalition seems to be the overall priority rather than dealing with issues that will greatly impact the nation once the new government is successfully formed.

C Hart is a news analyst reporting on political, diplomatic, and military issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East and the international community.