Sunday, April 08, 2007
There has been quite a bit of speculation recently about the prospects of a deal that would see the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit, who has been held by Palestinian militants since he was captured in a June 25, 2006 cross-border raid. On Friday, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas claimed that the Israeli soldier would soon be returned. He cited progress in talks between the Israelis, Egyptian mediators, and the Palestinians. Apparently, the sides agree on the numbers of Palestinian security prisoners who would be exchanged for Shalit.
There may very well be some grounds for hope. There are even discussions underway in the Knesset, which would allow the release of Palestinian prisoners "with blood on their hands." But I can't help noting that all this talks sounds rather familiar.
The Palestinians and the Egyptians have made many announcements about "breakthroughs" in negotiations. I remember when people were talking about a release before Yom Kippur, or before the end of Ramadan. Nothing happened.
A loyal reader of this blog asked me whether Abbas's announcement had anything to do with Nancy Pelosi's Damascus trip or with the release of the British sailors. It is true that Pelosi has shown some interest in the fate of Shalit, as well as Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, the reservists captured by Hizbullah, who may well be dead already (see this video of her in Jerusalem). Apparently, she keeps pictures of the three captives in her office. I happen to like Pelosi, but I think that her visit was farcical at best. With regard to Shalit in particular, Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is completely worthless. The fact is that none of the Palestinian leaders - not Abbas, not Dahlan, not Meshal, and definitely not Haniyah - are really in control of the people who are holding Shalit in Gaza right now.
Those holding the 19-year-old soldier are most likely members of the large Dagmoush clan, coverage of which has slowly seeped into the news over the past month. This powerful crime family was previously allied with Hamas, but it is clearly flexing its muscles and not willing to take orders from the political commanders. Its vendettas and its ruthlessness make the family a loose cannon that no one in Gaza is willing or able to control. The same group also appears to be holding BBC reporter Alan Johnston. The tactics they are using, especially the targeting of foreign journalist and UN personnel (an under-reported story) are more reminiscent of those employed by Iraqi terrorists than the Palestinians groups in Gaza over the past 5 years.
This complex background perhaps explains Abbas's comments to the effect that Shalit's release shouldn't be linked to that of the Palestinian prisoners, since "One thing does not depend on the other." Suffice to say, a deal for Shalit looks anything but imminent in light of this state of affairs. Indeed, the ability of the various Palestinian faction to enforce deals of any sort - always a liability in negotiations with them - is looking worse than ever.
Palestinian civilians are suffering daily from the anarchy in the Strip. In most of the fighting between Fatah and Hamas, the Islamic movement has come out on top. This has caused some to wonder whether it might not make more sense to rely on Hamas to deliver the goods. But the Shalit situation demonstrates that Hamas, too, is unable to control the forces unleashed by decades of glorifying armed struggle, a proliferation of weapons, widespread criminal activity supported by the political echelon, and years of occupation and attacks which undermined traditional leaders and norms. Add to that the penetration of al-Qaeda-type elements and fighters radicalized further in Iraq, and you have a mix that will plague the Palestinians for many decades to come.