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Jonathan Ben Efrat
Shukran, Mohamed Bouazizi, for the Gilad Shalit deal
ilad Shalit has probably never heard of Mohamed Bouazizi. He’s probably never heard of the Arab Spring. Nevertheless, the way for the deal to free the Israeli soldier was paved by that same Tunisian street vendor who set himself alight on December 17, 2010, changing the face of the Middle East. On that wintry day, for Hamas, Shalit was transformed from an asset into a liability. So, shukran, Mohamed, thanks.
Binyamin Netanyahu is a failed prime minister, who during his term of office has managed to quarrel with everyone crossing his path: from world leaders to the resident doctors of Israel’s hospitals. Netanyahu was also willing to go head to head with Shalit’s family. Events of this last summer and domestic politics undermined his standing, however, and the prime minister too would like a little peace and quiet. So, thanks to you too, Daphni Leef.
Hamas was not pressured by the siege on Gaza or Operation Cast Lead. The agreement for Shalit’s release, in the form it finally took, could not have been reached without the revolutions of the Arab Spring and the changes they brought to the Arab world.
Hamas was given “an offer it couldn’t refuse” in return for being integrated into the new geopolitical framework taking shape in the Middle East. It’s enough to recall the role of Egypt and Turkey to understand what Hamas got for the Shalit deal, and it’s far more than some 1,000 prisoners: it got some breathing space. Khaled Mashal and the Hamas leadership in Damascus understood that their Syrian patron’s regime was in danger and that they had to find a different solution. Their quiet support for the Syrian president as he massacred his own people led to a wave of protests against the movement, mainly from within the Muslim Brotherhood of which Hamas is part. Before the inevitable fall of the Syrian regime, Egypt and Turkey offered Hamas a refuge, and compelled it to abandon the sinking Iranian-Syrian ship.
Under the present conditions, it is unlikely that Mashal will be able to fulfill his promise to the thousands of prisoners that remain in Israeli jails and to their families in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, because Hamas will not continue the path of “resistance,” the armed struggle and the abduction of soldiers. Hamas’ Ahmed Jabari, leader of the military wing in Gaza, will be forced to shed his uniform and don a suit instead. He will also have to reach an agreement with the Palestinian Authority. He will have to free Gazans from the prison conditions Hamas forced upon them when it took control of the Strip, so that in the comprehensive arrangement to be arrived at with Israel (one day…), the Strip will be part of one political entity.
The few straws Hamas was still clutching sank as the Arab Spring came on, leaving its leaders gasping. Senior Hamas figures Abdullah Barghouti, Ibrahim Hamed and Wael Saeed were not included in the agreement . Also Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Sadaat are out. This was a serious blow to Hamas’ morale after it had declared repeatedly that without them it would not agree to Shalit’s release.
Israel too received an offer it could not refuse. In political terms, this is an offer at rock-bottom prices. Hamas was compelled to accept Israel’s terms against its will.
When Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen told the government that now conditions are ripe for an agreement and that nothing better would be achievable, he was referring to these changes. The successful involvement of Egypt and Turkey was a sign for Israel: it too must understand it is not the only regional power, and that one day it will have to pay a prisoner's price to them also – because if Israel can release 1,000 prisoners for a single soldier, it can certainly freeze the settlements for the “soldier” Abu Mazen.
There will come a day, under the pressure of Egypt and Turkey, when Israel will understand that the occupation is not an asset but a strategic liability, endangering it in the new Middle East.
- Translated by Yonatan Preminger