'Malki calls timing of Schalit deal suspicious'

PA Foreign Minister accuses Hamas of intentionally stealing limelight from Palestinian statehood bid; Abbas welcomes prisoner exchange.

Riad Malki 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman )
Riad Malki 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman )
The timing of the Israel-Hamas transaction for the release of Gilad Schalit  this week was "suspicious," Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki said on a French TV channel Friday, Army Radio reported.
"It seems as though Hamas decided to carry it out specifically now to draw attention away from Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] and his speech at the UN, which sought international recognition of a Palestinian state," explained Malki.
RELATED:Analysis: Hamas boosted, Fatah weakened by dealGilad Schalit expected back in Israel on TuesdayAccording to the report, the minister added that the Palestinians were wondering how Hamas failed to fulfill its promises to release the head of the PFLP Ahmad Sa'adat, and the Secretary-General of Fatah in the West Bank, Marwan Barghouti.
The PA president himself responded in a more positive manner to news of the prisoner exchange agreement involving Gilad Schalit. Abbas received a phone call from Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on Wednesday to inform him about the details, according to Palestinian news agency Ma'an.
The PA president was quoted as saying “I welcome this deal which we were awaiting for a long time," according to the report. He expressed hope that all detainees would be released one day, and thanked Egypt for its role in the deal, Ma'an reported.
In a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on Friday, Abbas also said that he was happy that so many prisoners would be released as part of the Schalit deal, and again expressed hope that all Palestinian prisoners would be freed.
Abbas is expected to meet soon with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal for renewed talks on ways of achieving unity. On Wednesday, Mashaal phoned Abbas and briefed him on the details of the agreement, and the two men agreed to meet soon.
Most PA officials in Ramallah refrained from praising Hamas for its role in the prisoner swap, highlighting instead the claim that the deal was a severe and painful blow to Israel.
The PA leadership is referring to the deal as a “huge national achievement,” without noting Hamas’s role.
However, Palestinian analysts, including some who are affiliated with the PA, admitted that the prisoner exchange was a “big achievement” for Hamas.
Most analysts agreed that the deal would significantly boost Hamas’s popularity and badly undermine the PA leadership’s credibility.
“The Palestinian Authority has been negotiating with Israel for 20 years and didn’t achieve what Hamas achieved by capturing Schalit,” newspaper commentator Anwar Sharif said.
“Many Palestinians are now saying that Hamas is right and Abbas is wrong.”
The deal was announced on Tuesday while Abbas was visiting Venezuela in the context of his ongoing efforts to muster world-wide support for his application to the UN for full membership of a Palestinian state.