A prisoner swap with Hamas for the release of St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit will likely take place after January but before the Palestinian elections, which are to be held by June, The Jerusalem Post learned on Thursday.
The scheduled release on Friday of 20 Palestinian female security prisoners in exchange for a video recording of Schalit was an indication that talks on an exchange are on a "positive track," a foreign official involved in the mediation said, but he stressed that this did not mean a swap was imminent.
According to the latest credible assessments, Hamas will try to use a Schalit swap to gain votes in the upcoming Palestinian Authority elections, and the negotiations with Israel over the IDF tank gunner will likely advance in lock-step with the progress made in Hamas's reconciliation talks with Fatah in Egypt.
Earlier this week, Hamas announced that it had accepted an Egyptian proposal to hold presidential and parliamentary elections, initially scheduled for January, sometime in the first half of 2010.
"Hamas will want to use a massive prisoner swap to its advantage in the elections against Fatah," a foreign official said. "This is why the swap will likely take place sometime in the first part of next year."
On Wednesday, the security cabinet approved the release of the 20 prisoners in exchange for an up-to-date videotape of Schalit, in what is perceived as the first concrete move toward freeing the soldier since he was kidnapped more than three years ago.
The decision to release the Palestinians came at the recommendation of the team working for Schalit's release, headed by the prime minister's point man on the issue, Hagai Hadas, and was unanimously approved by the 15-member security cabinet.
Negotiations between Israel and Hamas, according to foreign sources, are currently focused on two issues - the final Israeli approval of the 450 names on the list of prisoners Hamas demands be released, and Hamas approval of an Israeli demand that the prisoners be released only to the Gaza Strip or overseas, and not to the West Bank.
Israel is under pressure from Egypt to approve additional names on the list. It has already approved more than half of them.