Amos Harel
March 30, 2009 - 12:00am

It seems there won't be a last-minute miracle in negotiations to bring Gilad Shalit home. True, the talks have restarted, but that's not enough to clinch a deal, especially after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert laid out his red lines around two weeks ago. Olmert's refusal to release 125 prisoners whom Hamas wants freed and the publication of part of the list by Olmert's office has backed the negotiating partners into a corner.

In the short time before Benjamin Netanyahu is sworn in as prime minister on Tuesday, Israel cannot retreat from its public declarations. Hamas doesn't want to look like it has caved into pressure from Olmert, so it is demanding the freedom of the same prisoners whose release Israel says is out of the question.

A zero-sum game has thus been created which at the moment almost certainly rules out any room for maneuver toward a compromise. Any concession by either side after such decisive declarations would be seen as surrender. The ball seems to be in Netanyahu's court - hopefully now it will be possible to start over and try to reinvigorate the talks.

It should not be forgotten, however, that Netanyahu inherits his predecessor's red lines. It will be hard for the new prime minister to be seen as someone willing to make larger concessions than his predecessor, who is to the left of Netanyahu politically. Despite everything, the Egyptian intermediaries refuse to succumb to the pessimism. They see the distance Israel and Hamas have moved in recent months and say progress can also be made with a Netanyahu-led government.

The attention to the Shalit negotiations obscures another phenomenon, however. The Gaza border is quieter than it has been for months, with the number of rockets fired into Israel having declined to one or two a week. There are also virtually no clashes near the border fence. This shows that, in evaluating wars fought against organizations such as Hamas, as opposed to states, it's apparently better to suspend final judgment. Deterrence in the face of terrorism is apparently too complicated a topic to be subjected to quick media analysis.

Hamas has no interest in shooting rockets when it is preoccupied with rebuilding the Gaza Strip. And the other Palestinian factions, after being responsible for most of the shooting in the last two months, may also have concluded for now that their attacks are not yielding significant results, while giving Israel an excuse to tighten the blockade on Gaza and bomb the Rafah smuggling tunnels.

Sooner or later, however, the military wing of Hamas will want to resume the fight against Israel if it thinks it can withstand the Israeli response.


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