Nanjing Night Net

Too great a cost: Israel divided over deal to free soldier

JERUSALEM: The only thing certain about the wellbeing of the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, is that he is alive.But beyond the future welfare of the 23-year-old staff sergeant, much is riding on the possibility of his release.Many hope that a deal between Hamas and Israel to free Shalit in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners could be a catalyst to move the Israeli-Palestinian peace process beyond its impasse.Among the 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip, there is hope that Shalit’s freedom could prompt Israel to lift the three-year economic blockade of Gaza.Conversely, there are reports that Shalit’s release could engender exactly the opposite.The sight of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners coming home would provide a huge political boost to Hamas, the militant Islamic movement that plotted Shalit’s capture, and would further weaken the rival Fatah party of the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas.Where Shalit is being held, or when and if Israel and Hamas can ever agree on an exchange deal, remains as much a guessing game today as anything else.After a burst of speculation late last month that anticipated Shalit’s imminent release, the story has gone quiet.Egyptian and German mediators work around the clock, shuttling between the two camps with offer and counter-offer.But as the Israeli Minister for Intelligence, Dan Meridor, said, those people genuinely in the know are not talking.Throughout the 1273 days of Shalit’s detention, his parents, Noam and Aviva, have brought to bear a level of dignity that has won them the admiration of people and governments around the world.”All we can do is wait,” Noam Shalit told the Herald.”We don’t allow ourselves to feel excited or unhappy, we just keep trying to talk to people in the Government and hoping they can stay focused on working through the issues that will finally see him released.”Over the past four weeks, the Shalits have met government figures including the Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, the national security adviser Uzi Arad, and the vice prime ministers Silvan Shalom and Moshe Yaalon.”We just try to encourage people to keep moving forward, to keep thinking positively about securing Gilad’s freedom, and we keep thinking to ourselves to keep up our hopes.”Despite the enormous sympathy for the Shalit family across the country, there remain sharp divisions about the merits of releasing men convicted of the most serious terrorism attacks against Israel in exchange for one Israeli soldier.People such as Yossi Mendelwitz, who lost his son Yuval in a suicide bombing in the northern Israeli port city of Haifa 6½ years ago, have been actively campaigning against any such prisoner swap deal.”We are constantly working for, and also earning, public support, which perhaps is not reflected in the media, but which is steadily growing, and on the day a decision must be made, everyone will be seen and heard,” Mr Mendelwitz said this week. ”Ratification of the deal in its present form spells disaster for Israel.”With the number of prisoners Hamas wants freed said to number around 1000, it is those at the top of the list that are attracting the most attention.Chief among those is Marwan Barghouti, the 50 year-old Fatah leader who many Palestinians believe could succeed Abbas as the next president of the Palestinian Authority, but who is currently serving five life sentences for murder.Next on the list is Ibrahim Hammed, who was the Hamas military leader in the West Bank from 2001 to 2005 and led attacks that killed 76 Israelis.Another prisoner that Hamas wants released is Abdullah Barghouti, a distant relative of Marwan, who manufactured most of the bombs that were used in terrorist attacks on Jerusalem between 2001 and 2003, including the suicide bomb attacks on the Sbarro pizza restaurant on Jaffa Road in August 2001, in which the 15-year-old Australian girl Malki Roth was killed with 14 others.Fourth on the list is Abbas Sayed, who plotted the 2002 suicide bomb attack in Netanya, a northern Israeli coastal city, that killed 30 people.The fifth prisoner is Ahmad Saadat, who was convicted of organising the 2001 assassination of the Israeli tourism minister, Rehavam Ze’evi.With the fragile right-wing coalition of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, under pressure from the settler movement, which is unhappy about the imposition of a construction freeze in the West Bank, Shalit’s supporters are concerned that momentum for the deal that could secure his release is fading.”This is not an easy thing to think about for a political leader,” said Shimshon Liebman, who is the director the Gilad Shalit Task Force.”It will take courage to do this, and political will. But we believe that the Prime Minister, Mr Netanyahu, wants to do this, and we hope, God willing, that it will happen soon.”
Nanjing Night Net