Hamas PM Haniyeh celebrates prisoner deal in Gaza 311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
The framework deal for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit that the
cabinet approved on Tuesday evening – 1,000 for one – is pretty much the same
one the German mediator put on the table two years ago. What changed are some of
the key names on the list, and where the Palestinian prisoners will go after
Until a couple of months ago, Hamas – according to Israeli
officials – was insisting that all the names it put forward be freed.
Gilad Schalit expected back in Israel on Tuesday
Timeline of the proposed prisoner exchange
among those names
were a number Israel classified as arch-terrorists and
terrorist symbols: Abdullah Barghouti, the senior Hamas engineer in Gaza
responsible for dozens of murders; Ibrahim Hamed, the head of Hamas’s military
wing in the West Bank; Ahmad Sa’adat, head of the Popular Front for the
Liberation of Palestine responsible for the assassination of tourism minister
Rehavam Ze’evi; Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti; Jamal Abu al-Hija, a Hamas
commander in Jenin; and others.
In addition, Hamas stood firm for months
on its demand that all those released be allowed to return to their
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu refused to meet these demands,
and the deal never moved forward. But a few months ago, according to Israeli
officials, Hamas began showing signs of flexibility on both issues – a
flexibility met by flexibility by Netanyahu on two issues he had remained firm
on until that point: that Arab Israelis would not be included in the deal, and
that not all the women prisoners would be released.
Once Hamas took some
– but by no means all – the names of “mega-terrorists” off the list, and once it
agreed that some 203 prisoners from the West Bank would not be returning home,
but instead be deported either to Gaza or abroad, Netanyahu agreed that six
Israeli Arabs would be included in the deal, and that all 27 women would be
Among the women whom Israel originally said would not be
released was Mona Jaud Awana, who lured 16-year-old Jerusalem high-school
student Ofir Rahum to a meeting in Jerusalem whence he was then taken to the
outskirts of Ramallah and murdered in January 2001.
One of the key
questions that needs to be asked, and one discussed at Tuesday’s cabinet
meeting, is why after five years of holding Schalit was Hamas willing to bend at
The ministers were presented with three reasons for Hamas’s
The first had to do with the organization’s situation in
Syria, where it has its headquarters.
Hamas is an ally and very much
identified with embattled President Bashar Assad, even though the group’s
natural allies – both in Syria and elsewhere – are opposed to Assad. The
weakened position of one of its main patrons meant two things for Hamas: It
needed a victory to show its constituents; and it needed to start worrying about
where it can go from Syria.
Finding another host country, according to
assessments in Jerusalem, might be more complicated as long as it continued to
Second, the cabinet was told that the changes in Egypt have
had a huge impact on Hamas, bringing the revolutionary council and Hamas closer
and giving the Egyptians a degree of leverage over the organization that
president Hosni Mubarak never had.
Egypt, the cabinet was told, pressed
Hamas to moderate its position, and Hamas – keen on having good ties with the
new powers in Cairo – responded in a way it never had with the previous Egyptian
And finally, the cabinet was told, Israel’s recent stiffening of
the prison conditions for security prisoners – a move that triggered the recent
hunger strike in Israeli prisons – is also believed to have had an impact, with
the move placing pressure on Hamas from some of the prisoners and their families
to strike a deal.
In June, Netanyahu announced that the “party is over”
for Palestinian security prisoners, and that among the privileges to be done
away with was their ability to study for advanced academic degrees from behind