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Hamas-Israel prisoner swap talks ongoing

July 19, 2017 at 5:12 pm

Palestinian protesters hold pictures of Palestinian prisoners outside of an Israeli prison [Issam Rimawi/Apaimages]

Israel is reportedly willing to release an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners, mostly women, children and parliamentarians who have been detained without charge, in return for a video showing three Israeli citizens held by Hamas in Gaza are alive.

Hamas has rejected the proposal, calling instead for the 55 Palestinians who were rearrested after the prisoner swap of Gilad Shalit to be released, and information on other prisoners held by occupying forces.

Three Israeli soldiers were detained during operations in the besieged Gaza Strip. Israel also seeks the release of the bodies of two soldiers who were killed during the assault in 2014.

Despite Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman last week denying that the government was in contact with Hamas, Lebanese daily Al Akhbar today reported that the talks are continuing and being mediated by Egypt which has also raised “new proposals” for consideration.

Read: Hamas reinforces presence near Rafah crossing

Stanley Cohen, a US lawyer who has represented the political leadership of Hamas, told MEMO that Israel often used negotiations for political benefit at home.

He [Netanyahu] has been under tremendous pressure from the family members of the two soldiers whose bodies are in Gaza, and this is as much an effort to show them he is doing something.

He further emphasised that Israel did not approach negotiations in good faith, as demonstrated by their re-arrest of prisoners that had been released in the exchange of Gilad Shalit in 2011.

Once again Israel violates international law and then holds it out as a fig leaf to earn some quick political benefit itself. It’s a game to Israel; seizing and detaining people and trying to do exchanges.

Cohen was sceptical of Egypt’s role as a mediator, given its close relationship with Israel: “Egypt cannot exert any influence on Israel. Egypt will do what is best for its position and power, and Israel will try and maximise its relationship with Egypt for its own personal benefit.”

“Any time Egypt has intervened has been beneficial for the region. But in the long run, the problem is a lack of good faith by Israel. There is no doubt in my mind that Netanyahu is exploiting this for a personal political dynamic in Israel right now.”

Read more: 54 Palestinians injured during clashes at Al-Aqsa

He also envisaged how the current clashes over access to Al-Aqsa Mosque could warrant a stronger stance from Hamas.

“Unlike Fatah, which easily segregates Palestinians in the West Bank and Palestinians in Gaza, Hamas does not. So it’s very clear, and Israel is well aware, that if it continues the siege on Al-Aqsa and continues the violence that erupted again last night, then Hamas’ position will harden.”

He concluded that Israel’s action against Al-Aqsa revealed their approach to the talks: “If Israel was serious about the negotiations they would temper to some degree what they are doing in Al-Aqsa.”