Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hamas rejecting the Shalit deal would play into Bibi's hands

The Israeli media, quoting Al Jazeera, is reporting that Hamas is rejecting the Shalit deal in its current form. A Hamas spokesman told the network that they will “continue the negotiations” – although Israel has already said that the offer currently on the table would be the last.

Ironically, the Hamas attempt to play hardball might be good for Bibi.

It is clear that, much as Netanyahu would like to save Gilad Shalit – no one doubts this – he does not really, truly want to do the deal. Netanyahu has spent his career preaching against giving in to terrorists. A deal with Hamas, particularly one involving releasing over 1,000 terrorists, including several responsible for major terror attacks, goes against everything Netanyahu has ever stood for.

He also knows that the deal is strategically disastrous for Israel, potentially undermining or even completely destroying PA President Mahmoud Abbas, strengthening and giving a moral boost to Hamas, and letting hundreds of terrorists who are likely to re-offend back into Palestinian society.

On the other hand, it is clear that a majority of Israelis are in favour of a deal and that Netanyahu is finding it very hard to resist the pressure.

Netanyahu and his ‘kitchen cabinet’ worked visibly hard last week to come to a realistic offer, one which was painful for Israel but which would nevertheless maintain some red lines, refusing to release the very worst terrorists. The entire country watched carefully as Bibi and his closest ministers and advisors conducted a 24-hour marathon of deliberations. They know that he really did try to close this deal.

A Hamas rejection would essentially let Bibi off the hook. He could argue – and I think people would accept -- that Israel did everything it can do free Gilad Shalit, but that in the end, the deal was impossible.

The price, sadly, would be Gilad Shalit, who would suddenly become dispensable to his captors. For the sake of this young soldier, let us hope that some kind of resolution is still found.

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