The current Israeli government may be in dire need of a prisoner exchange deal which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can use to win over the army and the Israeli public by presenting himself as the most capable of resolving complex issues with the Palestinians and Arabs. Minister of Defence Benny Gantz may be the most keen to close the file of the Israeli soldiers captured in the Gaza Strip. He admitted responsibility a few days ago for their capture in his capacity as Chief of Staff during the 2014 military offensive against Gaza, and closing this file may count as an achievement for him. It could help him to cross the electoral threshold in the upcoming General Election.
The Israeli media has dealt with the issue of the prisoners and the missing individuals in two ways: the first used critical language and divulged hidden secrets in the deal to return the young Israeli woman who entered Syria recently, as well as the financial and humanitarian exchange in the deal. This put Netanyahu in an embarrassing position in front of the families of the soldiers captured by the resistance in Gaza. The second way has seen the use of the language of blame and distrust in the political leadership, which embarrassed the government as it was accused of abandoning its soldiers seven years after they were captured.
Successive Israeli governments are certain that the pressure on Gaza has not resulted in a victory, as none of the attempted espionage, eavesdropping and intelligence gathering have succeeded in obtaining any information about the captured soldiers. Moreover, neither the siege on Gaza, nor the sanctions, salary cuts, electricity cuts and the failure to provide coronavirus vaccine has had an impact on the resistance groups' decision in this regard.
Hence, the Israeli government has no choice but to agree to a prisoner exchange deal with the same conditions as set by the resistance on day one of capturing the soldiers. A prisoner exchange can take place, but not according to the terms published by the Israeli media, which mentioned an increase in the fishing area and a port, because the resistance does not lose focus or divert its attention to things less important than human lives. Hamas will not allow the Palestinian Legislative Council election to affect the conditions for a deal, as it knows that a prisoner exchange at this stage will be beneficial to the movement. However, it also realises that sticking to the principles that it outlined when the soldiers were captured gives the movement a weighty presence on the Palestinian street.
There is no doubt that the Israeli occupation government, which is monitoring Palestinian events, will try to invest in the good relationship between Hamas and Egypt to put pressure on for an exchange to take place. I do not rule out the possibility that the occupation government will link the release of its prisoners of war to its approval for the PLC election to go ahead. This will be rejected by the resistance groups, which have made up their mind on this matter and are confident that Egypt will not pressure them, and will not agree to the election being a negotiating card or a reason for negative repercussions for the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons.
A prisoner exchange deal may be announced soon, when the Israeli government responds to the demands of the Palestinian people to release their high-ranking prisoners who have served lengthy sentences. Failing this, all Israeli attempts to obtain the release of their soldiers will fail.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Felesteen on 23 February 2021
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.