debkafile Exclusive: The parents of kidnapped Israel soldier Gilead Shalit have received a note in his hand
“Dear parents,” said the note in Hebrew. “I am in good condition and am treated okay. I am asking for an early response to the fair and just demands of the resistance organizations so that I can come home quickly.”
The note was handed to Gilead’s parents by Ofer Dekel, Israeli Coordinator of Operations for the Recovery of Abducted Soldiers.
debkafile‘s military sources add that although the note meets one of Israel’s main demands for a sign of life, it is only the first step in the lengthy negotiating process still ahead. Weeks or even months may elapse before Gilead Shalit is free. Reports of the imminent release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are unfounded at this time.
Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, who leaves Monday, Sept 18, for New York to attend the UN General Assembly is doing his best to get the Israeli soldier released before he meets President George W. Bush and members of the Middle East Quartet on the sidelines of the session on Wednesday. But all the parties involved are pessimistic. debkafile‘s military and Palestinian sources explain that the ground covered so far is confined to talks between Egypt, Abbas and Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh, with no room at the table for Israel. Secondly, it is tied up closely with moves for a Palestinian unity government. Both accords have been drafted in broad lines, but the details remain to be filled in.
With regard to the kidnapped soldier, the internal Palestinian deal provides for his release to occur simultaneously with a “small Israeli gesture” to set free Hamas politicians and lawmakers, followed by a second round of 300-400 Palestinian minors and women.
Israel rejects these terms. Since receiving the soldier’s note to his parents, Israel is saying: Now we know he is alive, we can enter into negotiations on the terms of his release. Prime minister Ehud Olmert has informed the mediators that the number of Palestinians whose release is demanded is unrealistic.
debkafile‘s Palestinian sources add: Even if Olmert was ready to go along with Palestinian demands, Shalit would still not be freed because he is now a card in Fatah-Hamas discussions on their power-sharing guidelines. One big obstacle aside from the allocation of portfolios is Hamas’s demand for majority representation in the Palestinian Liberation Organization and its institutions commensurate with its share in the Palestinian parliament.
Abbas objects. He has also been informed that President Bush is absolutely opposed to the unity government because the emerging guidelines do not meet all Quartet demands for Hamas to not only to recognize Israel and renounce violence but also to accept previous Palestinian-Israeli accords, including the 1993 Oslo framework. Hamas is not willing to go further than to “take them into consideration.” It the unity government is scuttled by American objections, the chances of gaining Gilead Shalit’s freedom will correspondingly recede.