"Our Sons are not terrorists, the real terrorists are the Zionist child-killers"
From Khalid Amayreh in al-Khalil
Abu Yasser is an elderly Palestinian farmer living in the southern part of the West Bank. He keeps his eyes glued to Al-Jazeera Television channel these days to follow up the latest news regarding the German-mediated talks between Israel and Hamas over a possible prisoner-exchange deal.
He hopes that his son, Ahmed, will be amongst hundreds of Palestinian political and resistance activists Israel will set free if a deal is concluded.
The looming deal would see the release of an Israeli soldier, captured by Islamic freedom fighters in Gaza more than three years ago in exchange for the release from Israeli jails and detention camps of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, many of them spending heavy lengthy sentences for resisting the Israeli occupation.
This week, the talks reached a decisive phase as officials from both sides admitted that a tangible progress was being made and that an accord was closer than ever.
These statements raised hopes that some of the Palestinian prisoners who have spent the prime of their lives in Israeli dungeons and detention camps would finally see the light of the day.
"I hope that this time it will be for real," says Abu Yasser, in a tone combining both hope and doubt. "I want to see my son before I die."
"We were repeatedly told that a deal was imminent only to face another disappointment when the talks broke down. But I do hope that this time it is going to be different."
Abu Yasser and his wife, Um Yasser, dismiss Israeli reluctance to free their son and hundreds of other Palestinians imprisoned for their political or military resistance of the Israeli military occupation.
"My son didn't attack civilians like Israeli pilots who rained death on civilians in Gaza. Calling him 'terrorist' and similar names is a scandalous abuse of language," says Um Yasser, which means 'mother of Yasser.'
"Besides," she adds, all the laws of God and man allow people languishing under a foreign military occupation to resist their tormentors.
"So I want to ask these morally bankrupt politicians and so-called leaders. Would you or wouldn't you resist if your country was invaded and your people repressed and robbed of their rights, honor and dignity by a foreign occupation army?"
Abu Yasser unhesitatingly concurs. However, he argues that the Israelis know deep in their hearts that they are criminals and the Palestinians are victims.
"But you know, Israel is a lawless state, it behaves like a bully."
While the German mediator Emst Urlau, who is accredited for the reported recent progress, seems determined to conclude a swap deal as soon as possible, Israel is still reluctant to agree to release a few "veteran prisoners" it calls "big heads."
These include resistance leaders such as Ibrahim Hamed and Abdullah al Barghouthi and others involved in carrying out retaliatory attacks against Israel during the Aqsa intifada.
Then the level of Israeli state terror against Palestinian civilians reached scandalous proportions, forcing Hamas and other Palestinian resistance groups to carry out counter attacks in order to deter Israel from continuing to murder Palestinian civilians, including children and women.
The Israeli army and Shin Beth, Israel's domestic security agency, made strenuous intelligence efforts to locate the whereabouts of the captured soldier, Shalit, in order to carry out a rescue operation that would liberate him from Hamas's custody.
Indeed, the entire Israeli intelligence apparatus in the Gaza Strip, which includes a large number of informers, was mobilized to a maximal level in the hope of obtaining any piece of information that would have led to finding out the place where Shalit is detained.
In this context, millions of dollars were offered as bounty to anyone providing information that would lead to Shalit's liberation. But all these feats proved futile and unsuccessful.
Eventually, the Israeli government of Ehud Olmert reached the conclusion that even if Shalit's whereabouts were discovered, there was a 99%-probability that any rescue operation would end up having Shalit killed.
The failure to locate the whereabouts of Shalit, let alone rescue him, did make the Israeli bargaining position difficult, especially in the face of mounting pressure from his family to get him back home at any price.
Israel had and still has a standing policy of retrieving soldiers who are captured by the enemy.
However, the protracted imprisonment of Shalit, coupled with Hamas's stubborn refusal to concede on this issue despite the unprecedented ferocity and criminality of Israel's onslaught against Gaza last year seems to have convinced much of the Israeli public, as well as the military establishment, that a deal with Hamas, however bitter and uncomfortable to the Israelis, would be inevitable.
More to the point, Hamas's management of the Shalit issue proved highly successful. Hamas refused from the very inception to act under pressure and paid little attention to the psychological campaign waged by the Israeli media, and also by the Ramallah leadership.
Quite the contrary, Hamas played the psychological pressure card effectively when it released a short video clip showing Shalit in good health. However, the movement utterly refused to allow International Red Cross delegates to visit Shalit, fearing that Israel might take advantage of such a visit in order to implant certain electronic gadgets that would enable the Israeli intelligence to locate Shalit's whereabouts.
One Fatah leader in the Hebron region lauded Hamas's management of the Shalit affair. He argued that "if Shalit had been detained by Fatah, Israel would have known about his whereabouts from day-1."
There is no doubt that the Islamic liberation group, Hamas, would be the main winner in any prospective prisoner-swap accord with Israel. There are as many as 10,000 Palestinian political and resistance activists languishing in Israeli detention camps. Moreover, efforts to get Israel to release them have been largely unsuccessful, mainly because Israel wants to use these prisoners as a bargaining chip in order to extricate political concessions from the Palestinian Authority.
Israel and Fatah would be the losers. Israel would lose some of its power of deterrence vis-à-vis the Palestinians. Indeed, the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli custody would encourage Palestinians to take Israeli prisoners and use them as bargaining chips to force Israel to release more Palestinian detainees.
Moreover, a successful swap-deal from the Palestinian view point would assure the Palestinian public opinion that the fate of thousands of Palestinians in Israeli prisons doesn't have to depend on Israeli magnanimity.
As to Fatah, the group is worried that the release of that many Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons will significantly boost Hamas's public standing.
This explains the venomous propaganda war Fatah has been waging on Hamas in recent days, such as repeating the manifestly false claim that Hamas has been conducting secret talks with Israel in Geneva.
Indeed, one of the main reasons the former Olmert government refused to reach an accord with Hamas on the Shalit affair stemmed from concerns that the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners from Zionist custody would weaken the western-backed PA leader Mahmoud Abbas.
According to some news reports from Washington, the Obama administration has already asked Israel to release a thousand Fatah prisoners in order to neutralize any prospective popularity gains by Hamas as a result of a possible prisoner exchange deal with Israel.
The Obama administration is trying to woo Abbas to resume the stalled talks with Israel despite the latter's refusal to freeze Jewish settlement expansion especially in East Jerusalem.
Hence, the American gambit should be viewed, at least in part, as a sort of gimmick or even a bribe to encourage Abbas to return to the failed peace process. (end)