Gerhard Conrad, the senior German intelligence official who mediated the 2008 deal that secured Hezbollah's release of the remains of Israeli soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser in exchange for Israel's release of Lebanese prisoners, has also attempted to mediate the Israel-Hamas talks on the return of captive soldier Gilad Shalit. Conrad failed, resigned, went back to the job and ultimately quit again. According to Hamas spokespeople and Arab-language media, another European mediator has been appointed in his place. As with Conrad at one point, the identity of his replacement has not been made public, in an effort to make it easier for him to make contact with both parties far from prying eyes.
But the problem does not lie with the identity of the mediator or with that of the Israeli coordinator on the Shalit talks. Shalit was seized in June 2006, when Ehud Olmert was prime minister. After a fateful delay that caused Israel to lose out on making progress on freeing Shalit during the first weeks after the cross-border raid, since Olmert had declared his opposition to a deal, Ofer Dekel, a former deputy director of the Shin Bet security service, was appointed as Israel's liaison with Conrad. Dekel was the one who achieved the desired result in the Regev-Goldwasser deal, because in that case, Olmert and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah wanted the exchange to take place and were decisive about implementing it. In the Shalit talks, Israel and Hamas were on the verge of an agreement, but at the last minute they were unable to go through with it.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thought he had the solution: appointing a new negotiator, former deputy Mossad director Hagai Hadas. Netanyahu saw Dekel as insufficiently daring and creative. Two years passed, and Netanyahu and Hadas got stuck the same point as Olmert and Dekel. Now Hadas has resigned, and Netanyahu has found another negotiator. David Meidan, like his two predecessors, has a background at the top of the intelligence community, having served as a department head in the Mossad. Of course, he needs time to learn how to do his new job; months will pass until then.
With all due respect to the European mediator and the Israeli negotiator, it is the Israeli prime minister and his Hamas counterpart, who in this case appears to be the head of its military wing, Ahmed Jabari, who are ultimately responsible for reaching an agreement on Shalit's release. Like Olmert, Netanyahu has learned that buying time doesn't lower the price. If he doesn't move forward, the next prime minister will be called on to accept whichever deal is on the table. It's a shame that until an agreement is finally reached, the captive soldier and his family will have to suffer needlessly.
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