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'Rare window' to reach prisoner swap could vanish, Israel reluctant to pay high price

A group of people stage a demonstration in front of the Israel’s West Bank separation wall to show their support to the Palestinian prisoners in Bethlehem, West Bank on 22 March 2019 [Wisam Hashlamoun/Anadolu Agency]
A group of people stage a demonstration in front of the Israel’s West Bank separation wall to show their support to the Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prions on 22 March 2019 [Wisam Hashlamoun/Anadolu Agency]

Israeli sources have revealed that a "rare window of opportunity" to reach a prisoner swap with Hamas could vanish as Israel is reluctant to pay a high price, Israeli journalist Yoav Limor wrote in Israel Hayom on Friday.

Reporting sources involved in the ongoing talks, Limor confirmed that the talks had accelerated since the outbreak of the coronavirus because: "Hamas was afraid the healthcare system in Gaza would collapse and another exacerbation of the humanitarian crisis in the coastal enclave, and sought to incorporate the prisoner swap into a broader agreement with Israel."

Limor explains that despite "Hamas' willingness to finalise a deal, the talks between the sides have again tapered."

The Israeli journalist stated two reasons for this: "The lack of attention on the part of the senior political leadership that is supposed to move the matter forward and the lack of impact from the special negotiator for hostages and prisoners of war, Yaron Blum."

READ: The only way to release Israel captives is 'real prisoner swap' deal

He pointed out that there is a big difference between Blum and the official who was in charge of the talks regarding the Shalit prisoner swap reached with the Palestinians in 2011.

Limor describes Blum as "weak" and reported officials stating that: "The person filling Blum's vacuum is a senior Shin Bet security agency official known only as 'Maoz'."

According to Limor, Maoz is a senior intelligence official and manages the Shin Bet division for the Middle East, Africa, and intelligence relations, including clandestine ties with Muslim countries. He is familiar with the Palestinian and Egyptian arenas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Defence Minister Benny Gantz, as described by Limor: "Are primarily focused on contending with the coronavirus pandemic, the economic crisis, the sovereignty issue and variety of political matters, and are devoting very little time to the prisoner issue."

Limor concludes: "If the decision-makers' focus of attention is extremely limited, there's little chance of advancing the issue. Such complex deals require intensive, daily attention for an agreement to be reached. This is very far from the existing reality. The result, they argue, is that 'Hamas appears far more serious than us.'"

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