Le nouveau leader du Hamas, Yahya Sinwar.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I am using this platform to speak to the Palestinian public, especially in Gaza, and especially to the Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, who is also known as Abu Ibrahim. (An Arabic version of this article will appear in a Palestinian daily newspaper in Arabic).
We will soon be marking five years since the horrible war of July 2014. According to the United Nations, at least 2,104 Palestinians died, including 1,462 civilians, of whom 495 were children and 253 women. According to official Israeli sources, the 51-day war resulted in the deaths of 66 Israeli soldiers and six civilians. Two of the bodies of Israeli soldiers killed, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, still remain in Gaza. Additionally, there are two Israeli civilians, certified as mentally ill, who entered Gaza on their own some four years ago and who are presumed to be alive and being held somewhere in Gaza by Hamas.
All attempts to negotiate an exchange for the Israelis have failed. Hamas has lied to its public since July 2014 by stating that it is holding live Israeli soldiers and that the two civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham Al-Sayed, are also Israeli soldiers. The two soldiers were killed. This is known in Israel with 100% certainty, and the two civilians – one an Ethiopian Israeli who was relieved of military service because of mental health issues (the documentation of this was sent to Hamas by me years ago) and an Israeli Bedouin Muslim Arab who has been diagnosed as schizophrenic – never served in the Israeli army.
Hamas leaders have promised their people that in exchange for the Israeli soldiers they would secure the release thousands of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. Hamas has not shown anything to prove its claim that the soldiers are alive. They had released proof of life of Gilad Schalit two-and-half months after he was captured. Sinwar knows that if he had proof of life, the entire public discourse would be very different. In the Israeli Army there is 100% certainty that the soldiers are dead. I have personally been told directly about the hard evidence of this held by Israel.
Abu Ibrahim knows very well that there will not be a large prisoner release in exchange for the bodies of the two Israeli soldiers and the two Israeli civilians presumed to be alive who are being held illegally against all humanitarian values and against international law. Sinwar knows that he cannot repeat the deal made by his predecessor, Ahmad Jabari, who succeeded in getting Israel to release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the living Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit.
In the Schalit deal, Israel released more than 400 Palestinian prisoners who had killed Israelis. Abu Ibrahim knows that in any exchange which can now be negotiated, Israel will not release even one Palestinian prisoner who has killed an Israeli. Israel has agreed to make a humanitarian release of a small number of sick prisoners, minors and women prisoners, but no one with blood on their hands. This is why Sinwar has refused to negotiate for five years.
SINWAR HAS held up negotiations for those five years. His excuse is that since June and July 2014, Israel has rearrested 68 people who were released in the Schalit deal, after Hamas kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers. He claims that this was a violation of the Schalit deal and that Israel must release the 68 prisoners prior to a new round of negotiations on a new deal.
This is merely a pretext for not negotiating because as part of a deal, as Sinwar knows, Israel will release all of the ex-Schalit deal prisoners who did not return to violence (there are 45 of them left in prison, and less than five of them were sentenced for returning to violence). Furthermore, the real reason for Hamas not negotiating is that Sinwar cannot deliver on his promise to get thousands of prisoners released, so he prefers not to negotiate at all.
But Sinwar can make a deal with Israel that will bring much greater positive results for Palestine and Gaza than Jabari ever did. What Sinwar has not told his public is that all of the agreements that Israel has made with Egypt, the United Nations and Qatar (and indirectly with Hamas) will not be fulfilled by Israel while Israeli citizens, alive or dead, remain in Gaza.
The public has to know what they are missing and what could easily be achieved if Sinwar makes a deal to return the Israelis in a new, but modest deal. There will be a prisoner release on a humanitarian basis. The conditions in Israeli prisons for thousands of Palestinian prisoners will be improved greatly, with more family members allowed to visit, more phone privileges, renewed academic studies, improved food, and more. Most importantly, Gaza will be significantly opened, including access to renewed medical treatment in Israel; employment in Israel; export of goods from Gaza to the West Bank, Israel and the rest of the world; industrial and employment zones along the Israel-Gaza border; the beginning of the actual planning and construction of an off-shore seaport for Gaza; and more.
A deal made by Sinwar for the two Israeli soldiers’ bodies and the two living Israeli civilians would bring far greater relief to Gaza and the Palestinian people than the Schalit deal did back in October 2011. Sinwar would prove himself to be a real leader who is genuinely concerned with the welfare of his people.
Ya Abu Ibrahim! Israel is ready to make a deal now. Israel is also prepared to wait until you are prepared to deal seriously. But you must know and understand that the agreements that Israel has made through Egypt, the UN and Qatar will remain on paper and will not be fully implemented until all of the Israelis are returned to Israel. The choice is in your hands, and the welfare of your people is yours to decide.
The writer initiated and conducted a secret direct back channel negotiations between the Government of Israel and Hamas that led to the release of Gilad Schalit in October 2011.
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