Tuesday morning at 6 o'clock an ultimatum expired from the militants who have kidnapped an Israeli soldier. They had demanded the release of 1000 Palestinian prisoners by Israel, and threatened that if Israel did not comply with this, "the discussion concerning the fate of the Israeli soldier is closed, and no further information concerning his fate will be given". Also "the enemy will carry the complete responsibility for the consequences". Last Sunday the military wing of Hamas already voiced specific threats
, in case Israel should continue the attacks in the Gaza Strip:
"If they continue with these attacks we will strike similar targets in the Zionist Occupation which we have not targeted until now," Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas' Iz al-Din al-Qassam, said.
"If the Occupation continues aggression and terrorism against our people ... it will drag the region into a sea of blood and the consequences will be terrible. We still have many options," Abu Ubaida said.
Although the Israeli government has repeated its position that it will not enter into negotiations with the terrorists, there seem to be or have been negotiations to release prisoners who have no blood on their hands in exchange for releasing Shalit; negotiations that have led to nothing, as the ultimatum makes clear. Egypt conducted these negotiations.
I dearly hope that these negotiations have stopped indeed, and even more that they never took place, not because I believe that Israel should under no circumstances release prisoners, but because Israel must absolutely release no prisoners under THESE conditions. Ghasan Khatib, director of the Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre' and former Palestinian minister, explains precisely why
According to Khatib, the Kerem Shalom incident greatly increased the popularity of Hamas among Palestinians. "And if Palestinian prisoners were to be released in exchange for the Israeli prisoner, its popularity would soar. If no prisoners are received in exchange, its popularity would be severely damaged."
Release of Palestinian prisoners would reward the kidnappers, and therefore the 'armed resistance'. Palestinian prisoners are true heroes in the Palestinian territories, and their release is one of the most important demands of the Palestinians, together with the so-called 'right of return'. Who can get Palestinian prisoners free is a national hero. Hezbollah have won great popularity under the Palestinians this way, by exchanging more than 400 prisoners for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers and dubious business man in a prisoner exchange in 2004
. Hamas would gladly follow in their foot steps.
The release of Palestinian prisoners is an important 'carrot' that Israel should reserve for rewarding a moderate Palestinian leadership at a self chosen moment under self chosen conditions. If Abbas, rather than the Hamas government, would get prisoners released, not by violence but by stopping violence, this will contribute to his popularity and with that to a peaceful solution. Ratna Pelle
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