An Egyptian official told Israeli reporters Saturday that there are active negotiations taking place with Palestinian resistance groups for the potential release of the Palestinians’ only Israeli prisoner, a soldier captured five years ago in Gaza – but added that Israel’s continued obstinance in the negotiation process could lead to the soldier’s disappearance.The unnamed Egyptian official blamed David Meidan, the new Israeli negotiator, for the impasse, saying that the Israeli decision to blame Hamas has been counterproductive. After Meidan arrived in Cairo for negotiations last week, he pushed a ‘hardline’ position containing an implicit threat against Hamas – a negotiating tactic that the Egyptian official said would never work with Hamas.
On Thursday, the Israeli and French government released a joint statement blaming Hamas for the failure of the negotiations, although Hamas has said they have acted in good faith at the negotiating table. Hamas has never claimed to be holding the prisoner, but have acted as a negotiator with other, more militant Palestinian resistance groups.
The French government got involved in the case because the captured soldier, Gilad Shalit, holds dual Israeli-French citizenship.
The soldier, captured from an Israeli military base in southern Gaza in 2006, has become a cause célèbre for Israelis, as the sole prisoner held by Palestinian resistance forces. In contrast, the Israeli military is currently holding over 8,000 Palestinians, most of whom were captured in late-night raids of their homes, and over 1,000 of which are being held without charges.
Hamas negotiators have called for the release of around 10% of the Palestinians being held in Israeli prison camps, including all imprisoned women and children, and a number of high-profile detainees like Marwan Barghouthi, the alleged founder of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades (the armed wing of Fateh), and Ahmed Saadat, the Secretary-General of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who was seized by Israeli troops in an invasion of a Palestinian prison in Jericho where he was being held in 2007.
While the Hamas negotiators have requested the release of 550 low-security and 450 more high-profile detainees, Israeli officials have not budged on their number of sending 230 detainees into exile abroad, unable to ever return to their homes in Palestine. Israel has also refused to release any of the high-profile prisoners on the list presented to them by Hamas negotiators.
Next week will mark the fifth anniversary of Shalit’s capture by Palestinian resistance fighters, who dug their way into an Israeli military base and disabled a tank and other vehicles, killed two soldiers and captured one on June 26th, 2006.