Olmert: Mistake to link Shalit release with Gaza truce
PM says Israel must choose between advancing talks on soldier's release and applying pressure on Hamas.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said in private conversations in recent weeks that it is a mistake to link the issue of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit's release to the cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.
Olmert has told officials in meetings on the matter that Israel must choose between moving ahead on Shalit's release by applying massive pressure on Hamas - which might lead to the breakdown of the cease-fire and a renewal of Qassam fire on the Negev - and a freeze on the Shalit release and quiet in Sderot and the communities close to the Gaza Strip. Sources close to Olmert have said that as long as things are quiet, Hamas has no interest in moving ahead on releasing Shalit.
The sources have also criticized Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who pushed for a cease-fire at any cost, saying the cease-fire perhaps should have been delayed until progress was made on Shalit's release.
Senior defense officials familiar with the details of the talks over Shalit's release are critical both of Egypt, which is mediating talks between Hamas and Israel, and the cease-fire. "The Egyptians are being lazy and Hamas has no will to move ahead. Everything is stuck," a senior figure said.
According to these officials, the solution might come either from a change in approach by the Egyptians - which does not appear to be at hand - or by embarking on military and other operations in the Gaza Strip, so that Hamas will understand that if there is no progress on the Shalit release, the cease-fire will not continue.
"Without serious mediation and real pressure, this will not work," the official said.
Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman is continuing his contacts with Hamas, but in recent weeks the talks have dealt mainly with relations between Hamas and Fatah in the Strip. Meanwhile, Olmert has been given a list of 450 names of prisoners Israel has agreed to release in exchange for Shalit.
However, a senior minister familiar with the list and the talks said a solution is not close at the moment. According to the minister, the chance that Hamas will accept a list that includes only 220 of the names it submitted to Israel, and a similar number that Israel is proposing to release, is small.
"It's not at all certain that if we agreed to release everyone they wanted us to at first they would agree," the minister said. "I don't see how the matter will be solved in the next six months."
Israel was considering publishing the names of the prisoners it is willing to release in order to create pressure on Hamas from Palestinian families. However, the idea has been shelved for now out of concern over possible protests by Israelis whose relatives were killed or injured in terror attacks perpetrated by these prisoners.