The main breakthrough came in July. After five years of negotiations, Hamas
forwarded a letter to Israel in which, for the first time, it outlined its final
terms for a prisoner swap for Gilad Schalit.
RELATED:Gilad Schalit expected back in Israel on Tuesday Timeline of the proposed prisoner exchange
Three months earlier, David
Meidan, a former senior Mossad operative, had been appointed chief mediator to
the Schalit talks by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Upon receiving the letter, he immediately got to work.
The first indication that Hamas
was willing to ease up its demands came fairly quickly. After studying
the letter and seeing the names of Tanzim chief Marwan Barghouti, PFLP chief
Ahmed Sadat and some top Hamas terrorists, Meidan immediately made clear that
these people – the so-called “symbols” of Palestinian terror – would not be
released. Surprisingly, Hamas did not say no.
The same week that the
letter was sent by Hamas, the Egyptian mediator – a deputy of Intelligence
Minister Murad Muwafi – renewed his activity. In Israel, Cairo’s renewed
interest in the Schalit issue was understood as a result of a number of
First, the interim military-run government in Egypt wanted to
show the world that while the country appears to be in disarray and on the verge
of governmental collapse, this is not the case. Instead, by mediating the
Schalit deal, Egypt was able to show that it still is a player with major
The second reason is more internal and has to do with
Egypt’s concern with Hamas, but even more so with its founding father – the
The Brotherhood is expected to gain significant
political power in the upcoming elections. By striking a deal with Hamas,
Egypt gains some political influence over what happens in the Gaza
Getting back to July, after receiving Hamas’s response, the
Egyptians proceeded to hold six rounds of talks between Meidan and Izhard
Awadallah, the head of the Hamas delegation to the talks. Ahmed Jabari,
Hamas’s military commander, was also a frequent participant.
were usually held in Cairo at the Intelligence Ministry. Meidan and the Israeli
delegation would sit in one building and Awadallah and the Hamas delegation in
another. The Egyptians would move back and forth with messages and
The last round of talks began at 9 a.m. Monday and
continued for 24-hours straight until 9 a.m. Tuesday, when Meidan signed the
deal. Meidan was joined at the final round of talks by Shin Bet (Israel Security
Agency) chief Yoram Cohen and Netanyahu’s military secretary Maj.-Gen. Yohanan
Contrary to some reports, while Germany played a role in the
, it was at a much earlier stage. The German mediator had crafted an
agreement – which one Israeli official called a masterpiece – already two years
ago. Hamas, however, balked at it since it felt that the Germans were biased
Hamas had a number of reasons for finally agreeing to a
The first is that while Israel has paid a price for not releasing
Schalit, so has Hamas, which as proven by the deal, was holding a bargaining
chip for five years that is worth 1,000 convicted terrorists.
reason has to do with the instability in Syria and Hamas’s fears that it is
losing its headquarters in Damascus. Musa Abu Marzook, Khaled Mashaal’s
deputy, has already established an office in Cairo that could potentially
replace the one in Damascus. In addition, there are claims that the Egyptians
have promised an increase in trade with Gaza.
Hamas has also been hit
hard by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s move at the United
Nations last month that gave him and his Fatah party a major boost among the
Palestinian public. By securing the release of 1,000 prisoners, Hamas is
gaining political points.
One of the main sticking points throughout the
negotiations was Hamas’s concern that the swap would be perceived as a
“deportation deal” if a majority of the released terrorists were deported from
the West Bank and Gaza. The change in that position came in March, when Cohen
was appointed head of the Shin Bet.
Yuval Diskin, Cohen’s predecessor,
had rejected the possibility that a significant number of terrorists would be
allowed to return to the West Bank. To Gaza, he agreed to a slightly larger
Cohen immediately immersed himself in the negotiations and
established a rapport with Meidan. Cohen decided to be a little more daring than
Diskin and agreed to increase the number of prisoners who would be allowed to
return to the West Bank and Gaza. By doing this, and claiming that the results
would be “containable,” Cohen provided Netanyahu with the security backing he
needed to be able to move forward with the negotiations.
The July talks
did not start from scratch. Instead, they picked up from where Israel and Hamas
had left off two years ago and were based heavily on the previously nixed German
proposal. The two stages of 450 and 550 releasees were agreed upon in 2009. Now,
the sides had to work through the names.
Meidan, working on instructions
from Netanyahu, made two points clear from the beginning – First, Israel would
not release “symbols,” and second, it was willing to allow some of the released
prisoners to go to the West Bank, and even more to Gaza.
Israel also, for
the first time, agreed to release prisoners from east Jerusalem, as well as
Israeli Arabs. These two categories had never before been seriously considered
for release and were nixed during the talks led by the Olmert
government. Here, too, the change at the top of the Shin Bet played a key
Cohen’s rationale for agreeing to release six Israeli Arabs was
that a few of the ones requested by Hamas were old and not particularly
dangerous. The agreement to release almost all of the Hamas prisoners
from Gaza was made due to an assessment that their influence over Hamas would be
“There are 20,000 Izzadin Kassam members in Gaza, and another
200 are not going to make a huge difference,” Cohen explained.
the entire defense establishment is focused on implementing the deal and getting
Schalit home. But after he returns to his family in Mizpe Hila, the tough
questions will need to be asked: How come Israel failed for five years to create
a viable military option to release him from Gaza, or other means of leverage
over Hamas that could have forced it to agree to this deal earlier than
Israel will also have to ask itself what may the toughest question
of all: What happens next time? What happens after the next soldier is
The Winograd Committee, established to probe the Second Lebanon War
in 2006, wrote an appendix to its report in which it called on the government to
set a clear policy for how it deals with kidnapped soldiers.
This has yet
to happen, and as long as Hamas and Hezbollah know that one Israeli is worth
1,000 prisoners, chances are they will try again.