A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Gaza Negotiations Mess

Haaretz' Akiva Eldar hears Egyptian complaints about Israel's sudden linkage of a ceasefire to the Gilad Shalit exchange. I noted earlier that this sudden shift, combined with suspending chief negotiator Amos Gilad for criticizing it, jeopardized the whole negotitations. (And to complicate things further, Gen. Gilad is now reappointed to his job.)

Now the Egyptians are complaining, and if Eldar is right in this article, Netanyahu may be prepared to carry through on the exchange deal that Olmert seems to have backed off from.

I think it's already fairly clear that Ehud Olmert isn't going to be remembered as Israel's greatest Prime Minister, but this negotiation foulup almost makes it look as if he's trying to salvage a legacy as Israel's most incompetent. The relationship with Egypt, rocky as it often is, is still the fact upon which the entire peace process has been laboriously constructed over 30 years. Egypt has been providing its good offices as a go-between with Hamas (which is hardly Egypt's preferred Palestinian interlocutor anyway) and had what looked like a workable deal in place, only to see Olmert shift the terms at the last minute. (Technically I gather it was the security cabinet that changed the deal, but Olmert is going to get the blame.)

The Shalit exchange, at least as portrayed by press reports, was going to be a prisoner exchange contemporary with but independent of the ceasefire. By linking the release of Shalit to the ceasefire instead of to the release of Palestinian prisoners, the whole thing is much more explicitly a defeat for Hamas, and Egypt's role as intermediary is undercut.

Since it looks increasingly like Netanyahu will form a narrow government on the right, prospects for progress are slim enough; but what could have been a last triumph for Olmert seems to have been squandered.

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