Amos Harel, Avi Issacharoff
November 24, 2009 - 1:00am

1. Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried hard Monday to lower public and media expectations of an imminent deal for Gilad Shalit, via a statement issued by his bureau and remarks to the Likud Knesset faction.

This is being conducted under a thick veil of secrecy, replete with psychological warfare and false media reports. It's hard to guess exactly how long it will take, but reports that Hamas officials will fly to Damascus after their meetings in Cairo mean it probably won't happen by this Friday.

What is notable is the unified front Israel's leadership is presenting - in contrast to the disputes between Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, and their mutual defense minister, Ehud Barak. If Barak and Netanyahu approve the deal, they will presumably press the cabinet hard to do the same.

2. Hamas. The Hamas bulletin Al-Risala claimed Monday that the exchange will take place after Id al-Adha ends next Monday. Al-Arabiya television said a Hamas delegation will meet with the German mediator in Cairo Tuesday. This delegation differs from those Hamas sent to previous rounds of talks. Those consisted almost exclusively of senior members of its military wing, which actually holds Shalit. The current delegation also includes representatives of Hamas' political wing, from both Gaza and Damascus. That may indicate that Hamas wants to do a deal - and perhaps to curtail the influence of Ahmed Jabari, the military wing's hard-line leader.

3. The Palestinian Authority. Senior PA officials voiced fears in recent days that a deal would irreversibly undermine Fatah in its domestic rivalry with Hamas. Admiration for the Islamic group, as the only party able to win the release of Palestinian prisoners, would rise. That might even lead Hamas to agree to new PA elections. PA President Mahmoud Abbas would then face a serious challenge to his already weakened position.

But a deal could also have other dramatic consequences. Relatives of Marwan Barghouti, a senior Fatah leader jailed in Israel, claimed Monday that he would be freed as part of the deal. If so, he is likely to become Fatah's next leader and its candidate for PA president. He is also likely to bring about a reconciliation with Hamas that would enable new elections to be held. That would upset many veteran Fatah members, who are not Barghouti fans.

Barghouti's release would also entail risks for Israel. Just last week, he declared that he still favors "resistance" - that is, a resumption of anti-Israel terror.


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