In three days, on 25 June, we will be marking three years since Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was abducted. He is believed to be alive and is being held somewhere in the Gaza Strip by Hamas though to this day he has been denied even the most basic of human rights. All attempts to reach a deal with Hamas, including negotiations for the release of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad, have so far stalled.
In this time, a new Israeli government led by Binyamin Netanyahu has been elected and a new negotiator, Hagai Hadas, has been appointed, and while the Shalit family may hold out hope that this government will be more effective, we have yet to see any results.
Today’s Australian carries a story entitled ‘Egypt pushes pact for Mid-East peace’, which talks about a “mega-truce” proposal that has been put forward by the Egyptians. Under the proposal, Hamas would be replaced in Gaza by a unity government and a deal will be secured for the release of Gilad Shalit in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. Once the deal would be secured, the Israelis would lift the blockade on Gaza, making way for much needed supplies and money to get in so that the rebuilding process could begin. The deal has a take-it-or-leave-it deadline which must be reached by 7 July.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and Egyptian Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi to discuss these issues but in a news conference later said that there were no new developments in relation to Gilad, but that “the less we talk about the issue of Gilad Shalit, the better” (see more here and here). Perhaps this is part of a new direction the government is taking so as not to draw too much attention to the negotiations.
Whether anything comes of this mega-truce Egyptian plan remains to be seen, but I think it is an important step to link the release of Gilad Shalit into any deals made. The United States, on the other hand, has a different perspective.
Since Obama’s speech to the Arab world a few weeks ago, much has been said about progress with the Palestinians relying on the Israelis freezing any sort of settlement expansion and willingness to negotiation of the dismantling of the settlements in order to make way for a future Palestinian state. Until recently, I had heard very little on US policy in terms of the Gaza Strip, however late last week I came across an article in Haaretz entitled ‘U.S. ups pressure on Israel to end Gaza blockade’ which raises some interesting issues.
Apparently a few weeks ago a diplomatic note was sent to Jerusalem which officially protested Israeli policy in Gaza and asked the Israelis for a more liberal approach to the border crossings. The diplomatic note had certain demands including the allowing of food and medicine, the transfer of cash to banks in the Strip, the expansion of the system for opening the border crossings, permission to import certain goods that would enable imports and exports to encourage economic growth and the ability to bring in construction materials such as cement and iron to enable to the rebuilding of damage caused during Operation Cast Lead.
Additionally, the United States verbally relayed the message that Israel most cease to link the release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to the opening of the crossings. A source was quoted as saying, ‘This policy has not led to progress on the Shalit case and we do not think that it is contributing to anything’.
In theory, some might look at these demands and think that they are fairly reasonable. Indeed most of the world seems to find it very difficult to understand why there are restrictions placed on the borders (though more attention is obviously placed on the borders with Israel than the borders with Egypt).
I came across an interesting bulletin from Palestinian Media Watch of just one small example of why such restrictions are in place. Earlier this month the Palestinian Health Ministry made the allegation that Hamas terrorists had raided 46 ambulances that had been donated by Arab States during Operation Cast Lead for the medical equipment they contained and used the vehicles to arrest civilians (see more). There have been countless other examples of this, particularly since January. Please click here to read about the rebuilding of the civilian and military infrastructure in Gaza.
Back on the issue of Gilad Shalit, I came across a rather disturbing article in today’s ynet about how Abu Mujahid, who is the spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), one of the organizations responsible for Shalit’s capture, will be marking Gilad’s 3 years in captivity by getting married. According to Mujahid he wanted his first day as a married man to be “as blessed as the day in which the kidnapping was carried out, when Allah saw our success and victory”. He continued, “on that day hope was given to thousands of Palestinians prisoners who never dreamed they would see the light of freedom, and they can see that day is not far. It was also the day we avenged our martyrs. I think the ceremony will even begin at 6am, the time of the kidnapping itself” (see more).
I consider it absolutely sickening that such view is even expressed, let alone in this way. Gilad Shalit did not commit any sort of crime, and yet he has been imprisoned for three years by merciless thugs. Meanwhile, the prisoners Mujahid speaks of are in jail for committing some of the most heinous of attacks against Israeli civilians. Gilad deserves the chance to reach these milestones in his life; to stand under the Chuppah on his wedding day or to graduate from University. His family does not seek to dance on anyone’s grave or celebrate the loss of life in return for their own. Simply, they want their son home.
In other news, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policy speech raised eyebrows in relation to certain issues. One of these was his suggestion that a future Palestinian state must be demilitarized. This would mean that the Palestinians would have no army and no airspace and would be unable to make any sort of treaties with other countries. Please read the following briefing from BICOM, which shows that this idea of demilitarization is not new and has actually been documented in all major agreements between Israel and the Palestinian leadership since the Oslo Peace Accords.
Please join the ZCV, together with Hagshama, Australian Friends of Hebrew University (Vic Division) and JNF Victoria, next Monday 29 June for a moving and informative documentary about Gilad Shalit, followed by a panel discussion. For more information, click here.
Israel Advocacy Analyst
Zionist Council of Victoria