Analysis: Schalit videotape likely to spur renewed calls for deal to gain his freedom

Analysis Schalit videot

The Gilad Schalit video that Hamas is to give Israel on Friday will have two immediate effects. The first is that it will create the impression that something is moving on the until-now stalled Schalit negotiation track. The second effect will be the immediate calls on the government by almost every single Israeli to immediately carry out a prisoner exchange with Hamas for Schalit's release. Despite these feelings, there is no certainty that a deal is close to being finalized. In June 2007, Hamas released an audiotape in which Schalit's voice was heard for the first time since he had been taken captive a year earlier. The feeling at the time then, too, was that something was afoot. The two years that have passed proved otherwise. We also will likely not be able to learn much from the tape. As the former head of the Mossad's MIA Department told The Jerusalem Post, Schalit will likely claim that his health is deteriorating and urge Israeli leaders to work to release him. The tape could also be a goodwill gesture planned by Hamas to coincide with the Egyptian-mediated reconciliation talks it has been holding with Fatah in Cairo. Just this past Monday, Hamas announced that it was accepting an Egyptian initiative that will pave the way for presidential and parliamentary elections in the first half of 2010. Regardless of the motivation for releasing the tape, Hamas immediately scores two major accomplishments. First, it succeeds in releasing 20 female prisoners, some of them the planners of terror attacks. This could, though, have a negative effect on the negotiations, since it could increase the Palestinian street's appetite for the release of more prisoners. This could then pressure Hamas into raising its demands. The second achievement is that it gets Israelis to once again focus on Schalit, making it more likely there will be pressure on the government to finalize the deal and release hundreds of prisoners, though not everyone in the government feels comfortable with this. The question left is whether this new tape brings Schalit's release closer or pushes it off once again.