The highly acclaimed German mediator brokering a prisoner exchange deal that could finally bring captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit home has delivered Israel’s response to Hamas, whose officials are expected to deliberate over the Israeli offer in Damascus.
Reuters reported that the mediator’s name was barred from publication but the German-language paper Tagesspiegel reported that it was Gerhard Conrad, one of the foremost Arab experts in Germany’s intelligence service – known as the BND. Since early summer, the paper reported, Mr. Conrad has been shuttling between Jerusalem, Gaza, and Cairo in an attempt to engineer a prisoner exchange deal that would return Sgt. Shalit to Israel, where he has become a cause célèbre since being kidnapped in 2006.
Little is known about Conrad, even in his own country, where he holds a senior post in the BND. But the Israeli center-left newspaper Haaretz reported in 2008, when after 18 months of shuttle diplomacy Conrad secured the exchange of a Hezbollah militant for the remains of two Israeli soldiers, that since the 1990s he had been involved in every Israel-Hezbollah prisoner swap in which the BND had participated.
A German source who knows him well said that Conrad speaks several languages, knows Hezbollah and the Arab world well, and possesses integrity, an iron patience and diplomatic and organizational skills - all the qualities that allowed him not to despair of mediating a deal whose odds appeared impossible.
What is perhaps surprising about this whole story is that Hezbollah has been willing for 15 years to view the BND as a “fair” middleman, even though the agency has been known for decades to be friendly to the Mossad and Israeli interests. This can only attest to the integrity and professionalism of BND officers like Gerhard Conrad.
The prospect that Conrad’s mediation could bring Shalit home soon has caused a flurry of activity in Israel. According to a recent public opinion poll conducted jointly by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, 52 percent of Israelis support bringing Shalit home at all costs.
In Israel, 52% think that Israel should pay almost any price to return prisoners of war home since this is the moral obligation of the state which sent them to war. 35% however think that Israel should not free terrorists who killed Israelis in terrorist acts inside Israel since this will encourage further abductions and acts of terror.
Representatives of bereaved families from the Almagor Terror Victims Association met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday night and urged him not to agree to a prisoner swap.
They called on the prime minister to act for Shalit’s release through other means, including placing sanctions on the the Hamas-led administration in Gaza, cutting fuel and monetary transfers to the Gaza Strip, and making the conditions of Hamas prisoners in Israel more severe. Participants said afterward they came away with the sense that a deal is not yet finalized.
To address such concerns, Israel is demanding that more than 100 of the Palestinian prisoners involved in the potential exchange would be deported from the West Bank, reported Israel Radio in a separate story. Among those are Marwan Barghouti, one of the few Palestinian figures with the charisma and prominence to replace embattled Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Palestinian sources familiar with the prisoner release negotiations ... told the Lebanese newspaper Al-Mustaqbal that of the group, 97 would be sent to the Gaza Strip, and more than 20 others would be exiled to Qatar, and six to Europe to countries that agree to accept them.
There were conflicting reports in Arab media over whether or not Hamas would accept these terms.
The Lebanese newspaper also reported that Israel is still refusing to free nine prisoners Hamas is demanding be released, including Fatah Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) leader Ahmed Saadat, four senior members of the Hamas military wing and three female prisoners.