The first stage in the Israeli-Palestinian prisoner exchange deal related to long-held Israeli POW Gilad Shalit took place today, with the exchange of 19 Palestinian women prisoners for a two-minute video of Shalit, that showed him apparently well, and well treated.
This exchange is a ‘first payment’ by each side on a deal that is expected to eventually involve Shalit’s return to his family in Israel and Israel’s return to their families of some 1,000 of the 11,000 or so Palestinian political prisoners it currently holds, the vast majority of them noncombatants, most of whom have never had anything even resembling a fair trial.
Ma’an reports that Mahmoud Abbas, the time-expired president of the Palestinian Interim Authority, vowed today “to continue efforts toward releasing every prisoner who has spent decades in Israeli jails.”
This is fairly pathetic. Everyone in Palestine (and elsewhere) knows that Abbas played no role whatever in the negotiations, which have been conducted between the elected Hamas leadership in Gaza and the Israeli government, using Egypt and Germany as intermediaries.
Maan reported from Gaza that the elected PIA prime minister Ismail Haniyeh
- said the swap was ‘a victory for the resistance and the Palestinian will,’ adding that it ‘opened the door for a respectable deal.’
… Haniyeh also praised Egypt and Germany for their collective role in wrapping up the deal…
The Gaza leader said the Islamic movement had handled the exchange in a way that put national interests first, by demanding that women and girls affiliated with various factions be released rather than just Hamas.
Two things occur to me. First, that Germany’s fairly recent involvement in the prisoner exchange negotiations seems to have added some good momentum to the effort. Egypt had been doing the mediating all alone ever since Shalit was captured in June 2006, and hadn’t achieved anything. Germany has long experience of the many small steps involved in such negotiations– dating back to when German mediators orchestrated complex swaps of spies from both sides during the Cold War in Europe.
More recently, German mediators organized the several big swaps of live prisoners and human remains carried out between Israel and Hizbullah over recent years.
I imagine that the Egyptian authorities could have been as successful as the German if they’d really wanted to. But they never really did. So it was interesting that in the end the Israelis agreed to involve the Germans as well.
The second thought that occurs to me is that the Shalit-related prisoner-swap process should, hopefully, proceed through at least one further step, and may involve more than one further step. Some reports, for example, speak of a step whereby Shalit gets released to the egyptians and a further one when he gets sent home to Israel.
But anyway, throughout this whole period, the Hamas negotiators will be getting a lot of attention in the region and beyond; and among Palestinians and other Arabs the vast preponderance of that attention will almost certainly be favorable… And all that Abbas can do, meanwhile, is stand on the sidelines.
Not good for his political standing.
Several other things have been denting his standing badly recently, as well. Including the humiliating decision he took to participate in the three-way with Netanyahu last week (even though Israel’s settlement construction continues apace)– and equally humiliating decision his people made yesterday to drop its request that the UN Human Rights Council refer the Goldstone Report to the Security Council.