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With the euphoria from the release last week of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit fading, the Israeli establishment is looking ahead to the implications of the sweeping deal – and questioning whether the precedent the deal set is one it or the Palestinian Authority can support.
Some members of the Israeli government and military are concerned about two possibilities: that the deal is making huge, imbalanced prisoner exchanges the norm, rather than the exception – and that it has undermined the moderate Palestinian Authority too much.
The Israeli Defense Forces is poised to recommend that Israel make a series of gestures to the Palestinian Authority in order to undo some of the damage the Shalit deal did to its credibility. The deal bolstered the Fatah-dominated PA's rival, Hamas, at the expense of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his more moderate party.
Gestures include releasing additional Palestinian prisoners and ceding more land in the West Bank to Palestinian security control. "The army considers this necessary to help Abbas regain the upper hand in his ongoing battle with Hamas for control of the territories, since Israel's intelligence agencies all concur that the Shalit deal, in which Hamas obtained the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one kidnapped soldier, bolstered the Islamic organization at the PA's expense," Haaretz reports.
However, several of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's advisers and cabinet ministers oppose the IDF's proposal, saying that Mr. Abbas and the PA need to be punished for their bid for UN recognition of a Palestinian state. Haaretz reports that the IDF is concerned that Abbas feels so undermined that he is seriously considering resigning his post and believes that concessions to Abbas need to be substantial ones to help him climb out of a hole that Israel helped dig.
The senior Israeli official said the army's concerns were on full display at a briefing for [Israeli Defense Minister Ehud] Barak last week given by Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, the coordinator of government activities in the territories. Dangot, he said, expressed great concern over the messages he has been getting from senior PA officials recently - namely, that Abbas is depressed and threatening to resign in light of the impasse in negotiations, the boost the Shalit deal gave Hamas and the fear that his UN bid will fail even without an American veto, given his difficulties in recruiting the necessary nine votes in the Security Council.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday that Israel's prisoner release policies are a "slippery slope" and must change soon, The Jerusalem Post reports. A “life-loving country cannot continue” a policy of releasing more than 1,000 prisoners for one soldier," he said.
Mr. Barak's comments came after Ahmed Jabari, the head of the military wing of Hamas, gave a series of weekend interviews with Palestinian news outlets in which he threatened future kidnappings, according to Haaretz.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni echoed Barak's sentiments in weekend interviews. "Must we secure the release of Israeli captives at all costs? It remains obvious to me that the answer is negative, but when the people of Israel are engulfed in the Gilad Shalit reality TV show, attentiveness to this issue is lacking," she said, according to the Guardian. When her party was part of the government, it rejected a prisoner swap, she said.
Barak has long been skeptical about the wisdom of sweeping prisoner exchanges like the one made for Shalit. He ordered a review of Israel's policies four years ago, and the report is finally expected in the next few weeks, Haaretz reports. Barak insisted the conclusions not be submitted until after Shalit's release was secured.