Details of Shalit deal slowly become clear

An Israeli woman demonstrates for Shalit’s freedom on the Gaza border

An Israeli woman demonstrates for Shalit’s freedom on the Gaza border

Israel will free 980 Palestinian prisoners in two stages in return for the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. That is the broad framework of the prisoner exchange which is expected to take place in the next few weeks.

While the leaders of Hamas spent this week debating the details of the deal in Damascus, the public debate in Israel over the pros and cons of the exchange has gathered pace.

In response to two petitions to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem against the impending deal, the state set out the basic details but refused to release any names of Palestinian prisoners to be released before the cabinet vote on the deal.

According to the state’s representatives, 450 prisoners are to be released when Shalit is transferred from the Gaza Strip to Egypt. At a later date, another 530 will be released.

Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch turned down the petitions, saying that it was too early to rule on a deal that had not yet been finalised. The cabinet is expected to vote on the deal only after Hamas agrees to all the details.

Following the cabinet vote, there will be a 48-hour period in which Israelis will be able to petition the court against the deal. If the petitions are rejected, as is expected, the Knesset will also vote on the deal.

Palestinian sources reported over the weekend that preparations are already being made at the Rafah border crossing where Shalit is expected to be transferred to Egypt, before being flown to Israel.

Most of the details between Israel and the Palestinian side have already been agreed upon.

The remaining differences mainly concern the number of prisoners who will be sent into exile instead of returning to their homes.

Israeli intelligence experts claim that at this stage, the main obstacle to the deal is differences between the various Palestinian factions and within Hamas.

Within Hamas there is much argument between the Gaza and Damascus wings of the movement over which prisoners will be included in the final list.

Both wings are eager to get as many of their own members as possible out of prison.

In addition, the leaders of the Gaza wing are also insisting that the unofficial part of the deal includes Israeli assurances that, following Shalit’s release, the Palestinians will be allowed to import into the Gaza Strip building materials that it needs to reconstruct the houses that were destroyed during Operation Cast Lead last year.

"Don't release our child’s killers"

As Gilad Shalit’s father lobbied this week for Israel to close the prisoner exchange deal to bring his son home, three other fathers with their own tragic stories stepped up a campaign against the swap.

Yossi Zur, Yossi Mendellevich and Ron Kehrmann each lost a child in a suicide bombing on a bus in their home town of Haifa in 2003. They claim that prisoners released as part of the swap are certain to carry out more attacks in the future.

The swap will trade “one soldier in return for dead civilians in the future”, according to Mr Kehrmann, who lost his daughter Tal, 17.

Largely drowned out by the far higher-profile and better-funded campaign for a deal, the Three Fathers, as they call themselves, have been working for months to oppose it. This week they were behind an attempt to use legal channels to try to undermine the overwhelming public support for a swap.

In a special High Court hearing held in response to a petition they lodged, the fathers argued that the nation has a right to see the names of the terrorists who would be released wile negotiations are still ongoing.

Their rationale is that the public would be less supportive of the deal if they were aware of exactly who is going free and given details of the attacks for which they are imprisoned. However, the judge rejected the petition.

Mr Kehrmann admitted that as well as having a hard time convincing legal authorities, he is finding it difficult to win the public round to his view.

“It’s unpopular – people are reacting from their hearts instead of their minds.”

He urged Israel to take a leaf out of America and Britain’s book. “No Americans or Brits are being held because they don’t negotiate and that’s that.”

He spoke of the resistance he faces when he states his position in conversation – but said that sometimes he sways them.

“Sometimes I get impatient and I ask people who they are willing to sacrifice from their own families, and then I hear silence and see their minds ticking.”

Nathan Jeffay

    Last updated: 4:56pm, December 3 2009