News Analysis: New Egyptian gov't's influence may facilitate Shalit deal: analysts

11:49, June 06, 2011      

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Over the weekend local and regional newspapers were once again filled with reports suggesting that the captive Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, may soon be released.

According to the reports, Egypt has recently given Israel new offer to which Israel has responded.

The Hamas Al-Resalah newspaper, based in the Gaza Strip, reported Sunday that Hamas Damascus-based politburo deputy chief Moussa Abu Marzouq was planning to give the Egyptians a final response on the release of Shalit.

While in Cairo, Abu Marzouq was also to meet an unnamed senior Gaza Hamas leader, the report said. Some believe the individual was Ahmed al-Jabari, who heads Hamas' armed wing and has the final word on releasing Shalit.

Local analysts speaking to Xinhua said that both sides could benefit from making a deal now, and that much of the progress is due to the influence of the new Egyptian government.

EGYPT'S ROLE

Negotiations for the release of Shalit have been going on almost since the day that he was captured, mostly through German and Egyptian channels, and leaks that a deal is close have been reported several times in the past.

Shalit was captured in June 2006 by Palestinian militants in a cross-border raid along the Israeli-Gaza border. Despite German and Egyptian brokering, the gap between Hamas and Israel has been too wide. Israel is reluctant to release the over 1,000 detained Palestinians that Hamas is demanding in exchange for Shalit.

Nevertheless, Prof. Bassem Zbeidi, of Birzeit University, told Xinhua that while at this point it's hard to tell if the sides are any closer to a deal, there are some encouraging indicators towards a move in that direction.

The optimism streams from the newly-found influence of the interim Egyptian government that has been in place since former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down amid protests at the beginning of the year.

Mubarak was seen as being close to Israel and the Palestinian Fatah movement that controls the West Bank, and with only limited influence over Hamas. However, the new government has distanced itself in a degree from Israel and aligned its policy closer to Hamas.

"Egypt is very keen on dealing with the reconciliation among the Palestinians, and reaching really serious deal on the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians," Zbeidi said.

"It's only logical that the Egyptians will take on the issue of releasing Shalit in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, in order to consolidate its position as an important doer in the game," he argued.

SIGNS ON HAMAS'

Prof. Uri Bar-Joseph, of the University of Haifa, believes that the setting now is more favorable for a deal between Israel and Hamas, partly because Hamas in Gaza is getting closer to Egypt and also to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in the West Bank.

"This means that the Hamas branch in Gaza has set out to be more moderate, and closing a deal on Shalit is certainly a means for moderation," Bar-Joseph told Xinhua.

He pointed out that, as an example, for the last three weeks there have been very few rockets fired from Hamas against southern Israel, arguing this is another signal that Hamas is getting closer to a political course of actions rather than a military course.

"A deal on Shalit is certainly favored by Egypt and the PNA, so from Hamas' perspective now is a good time for a deal," Bar-Joseph said.

"One has to remember that getting the hundreds of Palestinian prisoners released back to Gaza and the West Bank is a huge win for Hamas, and will make the group more popular," the professor added.

NETANYAHU'S PRESSURE

Bar-Joseph is of the opinion that it seems like closing a deal about Shalit at present would be convenient for both Hamas and Israel.

"From the Israeli perspective, Netanyahu is under very heavy pressure to close a deal, which he refused to do in the past," Bar- Joseph argued.

He added that a few weeks ago a number of Israeli senior ex- security officials had said that Israel should make a deal with Hamas.

"Bibi knows that getting Shalit back home may give him a lot of popularity, especially from the more left-wing of the Israeli public," Bar-Joseph said, referring to Netanyahu's nickname. "He will be criticized from the right wing, but he is strong with the right-wing anyhow," the professor added.

In addition, by the end of the month another fleet of ships is expected to head for Gaza to break Israel's marine siege against Gaza. This event may cause Israel more problems, and it will be good for Israel to make a deal on the Shalit issue and lift the siege, according to Bar-Joseph.

Prof. Zbeidi agreed that the Shalit issue remains a sensitive one for the Israelis who are eager to find a solution, so there is a chance at this point to get a deal through.

But, he warned that all will depend on the details: how many prisoners that are going to be released, and whether that is going to be taken as an acknowledgment of Hamas by the Israeli government.

"In the sense that the Israelis have always said they will never deal with a terrorist group, because dealing with them will give those groups a sense of recognition," Zbeidi said, referring to the Israeli position of considering Hamas as a terror organization.

"And I'm not sure that the current Israeli government is really capable of doing that," Zbeidi concluded.

Source:Xinhua
 
 
     
 
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(Editor:黄蓓蓓)

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