Israel is reportedly holding talks with Hamas, an Islamic group that controls the Gaza Strip, in a bid to negotiate the release of two Israeli citizens and the bodies of two IDF soldiers kidnapped in 2014. Although reports suggest that a deal is looming, a Gaza-based political analyst is doubtful the sides will manage to bridge between their gaps.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said Friday that the Islamic group was ready for indirect talks with Israel in a bid to reach a prisoners’ swap deal with the Jewish state.
The group that controls the Gaza Strip is reportedly holding two Israeli citizens as well as the bodies of two soldiers killed in 2014 during Israel’s operation Protective Edge.
The deal that’s been negotiated with the help of Egyptian intelligence stipulates that at first, Israel would release dozens of the elderly, sick, teenage and female prisoners in exchange for information on the Israeli citizens believed to be held by Hamas, similar to what was done in 2009 when Tel Aviv freed 25 inmates in exchange for a video of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier kidnapped by the Islamic group in 2006.
Finally, the militants would provide Israel with a list of inmates — sentenced to life imprisonment in Israeli jails — and would demand the Jewish state to swap them for the bodies of the slain soldiers.
But Mkhaimer Abu Seada, a Gaza-based political analyst, said it was highly unlikely for these negotiations to end up in an inked deal.
“Back channel talks have been going on for years and every time they’ve failed to reach an agreement. They are doomed this time too, simply because the gaps between Israel and Hamas are way too wide.”
According to official data, there are more than five thousand Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails. At least 400 of them are sentenced to live imprisonment for the murder of Israelis. The Islamic group will probably demand the release of those inmates, something that Tel Aviv will find hard to accept, given the not-so-distant memory of the Gilad Shalit prisoners’ swap.
In 2011, Israel released more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit, but decided to rearrest them soon afterwards for their renewed terror activity.
Israel’s Politics as an Obstacle
“Even if the two sides do manage to bridge the gaps, the deal is still improbable,” thinks the expert, citing Israel’s politics as a serious obstacle to any breakthrough in talks.
In the last one year and a half, the Jewish state has been struggling to form a government, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu serving as the country’s interim prime minister.
Given the fact that transitional government cannot decide on such paramount issues as a prisoners’ swap, Abu Seada thinks it is improbable that Netanyahu would “have the luxury” to strike a deal in which he will need to make major concessions without a broad government consensus.
At the same time, Netanyahu is now working towards a unity government with Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, with the two leaders reporting a significant breakthrough in talks.
If a coalition ends up being established, the bringing back of the Israelis and the soldiers’ remains would top its agenda, not only because such a move would score points to the new government and satisfy the masses that over the years have been staging multiple rallies demanding the return of the missing, but also because bringing back the bodies of the slain is considered a religious and moral duty in Israel.
For Hamas, the return of their prisoners is a matter of dignity. Many of the prisoners were arrested long before the Oslo peace Accords of 1993. With time, they have become sick and exhausted and the Islamic group had promised their families they would bring them back.
The outbreak of COVID-19 in Israel has put extra pressure on the leadership of Hamas to keep their word. Although the virus that has claimed the lives of more than 170 Israelis, it hasn’t reached Israeli prisons yet, and Palestinian groups and the families of the prisoners are concerned that it is only a matter of time until the pandemic hits their crowded cells and puts their lives at risk.
And there is another reason too. “
Some elements in Hamas believe that they won’t have another chance to kidnap Israelis without risking a full-scale war with Israel. So they now want to seize this opportunity presented by the raging Coronavirus to conduct the swap before the chance evaporates”.