The next Israeli government is expected to resume targeted assassinations of Hamas terrorist leaders and cut off family visits to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in an effort to pressure Hamas to allow visits to kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and ease up on its demands for an exchange, sources close to the prime minister designate say.
These hardline tactics are likely elements of future attempts to free Shalit since negotiations will now most likely fall to Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, officials said.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert addressed the nation in a televised news conference to explain why Israel and Hamas failed to reach an agreement in Cairo.
“The government of Israel, so long as I stand at its head, will not agree to the dictates [of Hamas] as they were presented,” Olmert said. “Israel agreed to generous and far-reaching compromises. I approved these compromises, which meant releasing dozens of prisoners, some of them murderers.”
But in the end, the deal fell through over 100 prisoners in what could be Olmert’s last chance to leave office with a positive legacy after a stormy three years in office wracked with corruption scandals and two wars. Olmert’s special envoy Ofer Dekel and Israel Security Agency Chief Yuval Diskin blamed Hamas for its “unwillingness” to be flexible and for toughening its stance in recent days. The Israeli cabinet today voted to release to the public Hamas’ prisoner list.
Hamas official Osama Hamdan told Reuters on Tuesday he hoped Israel would resume talks soon.
“If the Israeli government sticks to its negative position, it will not be possible to clinch a deal, at least at the present time,” he said. “If Israel wants to reach a deal, it should come with a serious offer.”
Yoni Ben-Menachem, chief editor of Israel Radio, said the gap between what Hamas was asking and what Israel was willing to cede was too large to overcome, including 100 disputed prisoners accused of direct involvement in deadly terror attacks against Israelis.
“Hamas did not change its initial demand to release the hard-core terrorists, 450 prisoners,” he said at a media briefing in Jerusalem. “They have been very persistent about this demand for three years now.”
Ben-Menachem said that military aides close to Netanyahu believe the next prime minister will renew targeted killings of Hamas, update Israel’s security policy and “make new rules.”
“It’s a new government, it’s a different ball game. If you apply the right pressure ... they will change their position,” he said referring to Hamas. “With the right pressure and incentive ... you can do it.”
Another bargaining chip Israel has, Ben-Menachem pointed out, is the $5 billion in foreign aid promised to rebuild Gaza: “Hamas will want to start rebuilding Gaza. But to get equipment there, the passages must be opened. The passages cannot be opened without Shalit.”
Joshua Teitelbaum, a senior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center, agreed that Israel would likely adopt a tougher stance against Hamas under Netanyahu’s administration.
“Definitely there will be a bit of a harder line,” he told Newsmax. “They will resume targeted killings and generally turn up the pressure.”
Shalit was abducted on June 25, 2006 in cross-border raid near the Gaza border. Volunteers at a tent erected outside the prime minister’s residence have marked the 996 days since the kidnapping.
Shalit’s father, Noam, told reporters after Olmert’s speech that the government failed and begged leaders to do everything in its power to return his son.
“We’ve been dealing with these hopes, expectations and disappointments for 1,000 days,” he said. “What's important now is actions, and not hopes and expectations.”
In the last week, a groundswell of public support in favor of exchanging prisoners for Shalit peaked in Israel with 69 percent supporting handing over hundreds of prisoner for a single soldier’s life, according to a poll by the Dahaf Institute.
Hamas has prevented Israeli and international officials from visiting Shalit, but intelligence reports indicate that the soldier, now 22 years old, is still alive, in Gaza and is reportedly being held with explosives strapped to him.
Several Palestinians families in Gaza and the West Bank were disappointed when Israel and Hamas failed to agree on a swap. A few Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails were so confident they would be released, they had started to pack on Monday. Ben-Menachem expects Palestinians to apply some pressure to the Hamas government to get their family members in Israel prisons back, but not as forcefully as in Israel.
”We’re talking about a dictatorship in Gaza,” he said.
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