Hamas gunmen 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas is as desperate as Israel to find an "honorable" solution to the case of St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit.
Hamas knows that Schalit's release could mean the reopening of the border crossings into Gaza Strip - a move that would facilitate the movement's mission of rebuilding the houses destroyed during Operation Cast Lead, further boosting Hamas's popularity and solidifying its control over the 1.4 million Palestinians living there.
But as of Sunday night, it did not seem that the Islamist movement was in a rush to sign a deal just for the sake of handing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni some kind of victory as they prepare to leave office.
Nor do the soldier's captors seem to be afraid of dealing with a new right-wing coalition headed by the Likud's Binyamin Netanyahu and Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman.
Olmert has been trying to exert pressure on Hamas by warning that unless an agreement is reached by Monday morning, he will refer the case of Schalit to the next government.
In a message to Hamas, Olmert warned the movement that it would not get a better offer, if any, from Netanyahu and Lieberman.
Accept my offer now, or else you will have to deal with Netanyahu and Lieberman, who are not going to give you as much as I'm willing to give, was the message delivered to Hamas through Egyptian security officials over the weekend.
Hamas spokesmen in the Gaza Strip dismissed Olmert's threat as "nonsense" and "comical." One of them said Hamas did not distinguish between Kadima and the Likud, or between Olmert and Netanyahu or Livni and Lieberman.
"The last two wars, the one in Lebanon and the one in the Gaza Strip, were launched by a government that claims to be leftist and centrist in its policies," the Hamas spokesman noted. "When it comes to dealing with the Arabs, there is no difference between the right wing and the left wing in Israel."
According to the official, Olmert and Livni are desperate to leave office with some sort of an achievement that would make them look good in the eyes of the Israeli public.
"After all the massacres the two committed against our people in the Gaza Strip, they now want us to help them by releasing the soldier," he continued. "I don't believe that Hamas should reward Olmert and Livni."
Another Hamas spokesman said that had Olmert wanted to resolve the case of Schalit, he could have done so shortly after the soldier was kidnapped. Hamas's demands have not changed since then, he said.
"We have been providing Israel with the same list of prisoners for almost three years," he said. "The list that we recently delivered to Israel through the Egyptian mediators is almost the same one we presented back then."
Schalit, he added, could have been returned to his family a few months after his abduction had the government accepted the captors' demands for the release of several hundred security prisoners.
"It seems that Olmert is now prepared to release more than 70 percent of the prisoners who are on the list," the Hamas spokesman said. "This means that we have made some progress, given the fact that in the past, Israel refused to release more than 70% of the prisoners."
But as far as Schalit's captors are concerned, it's either 100% or nothing. They are convinced that the new government will have to resume the negotiations over a prisoner exchange from the point where they ended. They also have no doubt that a Netanyahu-led coalition will pay a heavy price in return for a soldier or an Israeli civilian.
Hamas and the other groups holding Schalit can't afford to make the slightest concession to Israel, particularly since the price the Palestinians have paid since the abduction in the summer of 2006 has been very high - almost 2,500 killed and thousands wounded.
The kidnappers need to show the Palestinian public that the price was not unjustified. This can be achieved only if Israel releases hundreds of security prisoners, including ones with Jewish blood on their hands. And some Hamas officials really believe that Netanyahu and Lieberman might have the guts to do what Olmert and Livni are reluctant to do.