Shalit’s fate vague amid ongoing inter-Palestinian crisis

By Saud Abu Ramadan, Xinhua,

Gaza : The issue concerning Israeli captive Gilad Shalit grabs heavy spotlight in the Jewish state following a prisoner swap with Lebanon’s Shiite group Hezbollah on Wednesday.

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Yet the fate of the Israeli corporal, kidnapped by Hamas-led militants two years ago and believed to be still alive, is still elusive taken the current Palestinian crisis into consideration.

The deadlocked prisoners swap talks between Hamas and Israel, reopening of Gaza crossings mainly Rafah on the border between Gaza and Egypt, and a long-awaited internal Palestinian dialogue, are three major issues which have yet seen any tangible progress.

Palestinian analysts expressed their belief each of the three issues is becoming more complicated than the other and that each issue is tightly linked to the other since an Egyptian-brokered truce now makes for a de facto failure.


Hani Habib, a Palestinian analyst based in Gaza, said “although there is a truce between Israel and Gaza militant groups, the current internal Palestinian situation is the worst.”

“The Palestinians are more despaired and disappointed and everyday they lose hope that the crisis would end soon.”

Since Hamas armed wing al-Qassam Brigades and two other militant groups captured Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit in an attack on an Israeli army base southeast of the Gaza Strip two years ago, no progress has been made in the talks to free him.

On Wednesday when Hezbollah exchanged prisoners with Israel, Hamas officials announced a decision to halt the talks on the prisoner swap with Israel because Israel shows full respect to the truce.

Hamas leader Osama Hamdan said in a statement that Hamas is nothappy with the way Egypt is running the indirect talks on the prisoner swap, adding that Hamas is trying to look for another mediator, referring to a German mediator who brokered the Israel-Hezbollah prisoners swap.

“Hamas, which leads the indirect talks with Israel, expressed dissatisfaction that Israel is not showing any lenient position towards the prisoner swap, and still rejects Hamas demands to release 450 prisoners,” said Habib.

Under the Egyptian-brokered truce that took effect on June 19, Israel and Palestinian militant groups led by Hamas agreed to stop cross-border attacks against each other during the first phase.

Israel also agreed to ease gradually its economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, but demanded the Rafah border crossing remain closed until Shalit is freed. Hamas conditions the release of Shalit on the reopening of border crossings and lift of the siege.

Fawzi Barhoum, Hamas spokesman in Gaza, told Xinhua over the phone that Israel is not showing a full commitment to the truce, adding that “easing restrictions on Gaza crossings is going very slow and the population doesn’t feel that there is basically a real truce and a normal life.”

Barhoum said “if Israel doesn’t keep easing the restrictions onGaza border crossings and still shows hard stance towards Hamas demands for the prisoner swap, the fragile truce might collapse.”

“So, easing the Israeli restrictions on Gaza crossings is linked to implementing the second phase which is the talks on releasing Shalit and reopening Rafah border crossing. Both issues are still not moving and no progress can be felt,” said Habib.


Ahmed Jadallah, a Palestinian academic specialized in Mideast politics told Xinhua that the Palestinian situation is “very complicated,” adding that even if Israel and Hamas agree on a prisoner swap, reopening Rafah crossing will need an internal Palestinian reconciliation.

According to a U.S.-brokered deal in 2005, Abbas’ presidential guard forces were in charge of security at the crossing in addition to European Union (EU) monitors. The two parties left the crossing following Hamas’ bloody takeover of Gaza.

Egypt wants to get back to the agreement in case the Palestinians resume their dialogue and agree on a mechanism to operate Rafah crossing.

Gaza ruler Hamas also wants to have a role in running Rafah crossing, the only Gaza passage to the outside world that bypasses Israel. However, the request was rejected by European observers.

“Reopening Rafah crossing needs a resumption of the dialogue between rival Fatah and Hamas movements in order to agree on a mechanism where Hamas, Fatah, Egypt, Israel and the Europeans all can join the agreement,” said Jadallah.

Jadallah said the only issue that would be a positive key to help them get out of the current impasse “is the immediate resumption of dialogue and the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank.”

“The resumption of dialogue and reaching an agreement on national reconciliation would open the doors for easing the restrictions on Gaza crossings and ending the Israeli blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip,” said he.

On Sunday, deposed Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haneya said his government is ready to start immediate national dialogue without any condition, which gives a glimpse of hope to solve the Palestinian crisis.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas banned any contacts with Hamas until last month when he launched an initiative for reconciliation dialogue.