Monday, March 16, 2009


Gilad Shalit’s parents pitched a tent near the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, holding a vigil they hope will motivate Israel’s powers that be to close a deal with Hamas that will result in the return of their imprisoned son Gilad, now in his 994th day in a cell somewhere in Gaza.

The new Netanyahu-led Likud government is soon to take over the government, and the Shalit family is concerned that new faces will appear around the negotiating table, each with new ideas and new terms resulting in an extension, perhaps an endless one, of Gilad Shalit’s incarceration.

The outgoing Olmert government is anxious to make a deal. Olmert wants to leave office having secured the release of Shalit. But according to some military sources Olmert has already screwed up the negotiations beyond repair when he linked the release of Shalit to the disengagement of Israeli and Hamas forces in Gaza, and appointing Egypt as the mediator.

An informed military source told Israel Army Radio that negotiations of this type are mediated by a neutral third-party with no interest in siding with either party. The negotiations are also independent of other issues, with no linkage, stressing the “humanitarian” issues, not military or political. Lastly, the negotiations are held quietly, far from the press, with no reports appearing in the media about terms, success of failure of different stages.

These talks have been conducted by Egypt in the full light of the press and lately linked to military and political issues. The informed source said this was a sure formula for failure.

Negotiations are taking place in Cairo, since the Egyptians are the mediators. Israel has let it be known that the clock is ticking on a prisoner swap agreement. Hamas presented Israel with 450 names, Israel responded with 250. Latest reports state that Hamas is willing to accept 300 of the prisoners on the list. Chalid Mashal, the head of Hamas, based in Damascus, flew into Cairo for the meeting.

Pundits say that Mashal didn’t fly in to discuss the Hamas-Israel disengagement in Gaza, but rather the Shalit deal. Some see this as an encouraging sigh. Israel Broadcasting Authority’s reporter Avi Sacharof told Army radio this morning that Hamas is as befuddled by what Israel has in mind as the Israeli press.

Olmert is essentially conducting the negotiations through his emissaries Ofer Dekel and Minister of Security Diskin. Diskin has let it be known he is against the release of so many prisoners in exchange for Shalit. Other voices in the military have let it be known that prisoners are expected in a conflict and some never come home. Of course, the Shalit family isn’t happy with this message.

The negotiators have agreed to keep talking for another 24-hours, in hopes of reaching some agreement. In the past Israel has always given up prisoners in exchange for Israelis captured by the enemy. Col Ehud Tannenbaum was released from a Hezbollah jail after three years on ‘humanitarian’ grounds, since he was suffering from a heart condition, in exchange for Hezbollah prisoners. The bodies of Goldwasser and Regev were exchanged for a Hezbollah terrorist. Back in 1981 then Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin exchanged 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for six Israelis captured during the War in Lebanon I.

The reason Gilad Shalit is still in jail, analysts say, is that PM Ehud Olmert refused to agree to negotiate with Hamas, and certainly not exchange prisoners for Shalit. It has taken Olmert three years and the waning moments of his term in office to change his mind. Some critics say the deal could have been done much sooner and at less a price, shortly after Shalit was captured.

Will this chapter in Israel’s history help or hurt Olmert’s image? If Shalit is returned, it will help, if not, it will hurt. But even a little help isn’t going to do wonders for Olmert. Analysts say he is looking forward to the day when he has defeated his enemies in court and can stage a comeback in the political arena, pointing to the Shalit deal as a positive accomplishment.

The new Likud-Israel Beitanu government should take over within a week. The two parties initialed agreements yesterday, giving Israel Beitanu 5 ministerial portfolios, and appointing party leader Avigdor Lieberman as Foreign Minister. Part of Lieberman’s platform is civil marriages, recognition of conversions performed by Reform and Conservative institutions, and other liberalizing measures. On the other hand Lieberman is pushing for a loyalty oath, aimed mainly at the Arab Knesset members.

The rainy season returned to Israel that was experiencing a drought. Last week the northern regions received enough water that they didn’t have to uproot their apple and pear trees, this week more rain brought the north’s annual rainfall to nearly 90 per cent. The water authority is quick to remind people the aquifers are still very low, and the Sea of Galilee is short about four meters from the red line level. But still Israelis see the water as a blessing, and some mystics see it as a reaffirmation of Netanyahu and Leiberman as the right parties at the right time.

New words: “Madoffed” as in “I’ve been madoffed.” Meaning, scammed.
New Phrases: “Forward-Send” for thoughtless use of e-mail messages that clog up an in-box. “He hits forward-send without thinking.”

You could combine this by “He was madoffed by hitting forward-send without thinking.”
This would apply to some people who naively respond to a Nigerian e-mail offering prize money for a lottery you never entered, or to the Shalit family who may very well have been madoffed by outgoing PM Olmert.