Israel: Hamas Backed Down on Shalit Deal

The prisoner exchange deal that freed kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, including hundreds of terrorists with life sentences, was only possible when Hamas finally compromised, according to an Israeli official. Prime Minister’s Office spokesman Mark Regev, speaking with The Mideast Update by phone, said the deal happened when Hamas backed off their extreme demands in recent weeks.

“Over the last few weeks the negotiators saw this new flexibility in Hamas’ position, because they came to the table with very maximalists demands and made a deal impossible,” said Regev. “But over the last few weeks we saw Hamas give.”

He pointed out the deal “does not include the leaders of the terrorist movement that are behind bars, major figures in Hamas terrorism, people who are mass-murderers, responsible for even hundreds of deaths. We said we won’t release these people and in the end Hamas accepted that.”

Regev said the deportation of prisoners was another area where Israel had red lines. “We said we don’t want to see killers back on the streets, where they can murder more Israelis,” said Regev.

He said “the overwhelming majority” of the prisoners will not be released into the West Bank. Instead Regev said they will be released to Gaza—some returning home and some deported there—or in some cases sent abroad, “where their ability to hurt Israel is lessened dramatically.”

The initial stage to the swap that released 477 Palestinians and returned Shalit home occurred on Tuesday. While freeing such a large number of prisoners in exchange for just one soldier certainly implies significant Israeli willingness to compromise, the general framework of the deal has been reported in Israeli media for years.  It therefore appears Israel’s main compromises were already well-established prior to the finalization of the deal, and it was Hamas who showed the most significant flexibility in recent weeks.

While Israel continues to call for the renewal of peace negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a Hamas political rival, the prisoner deal does not imply Israel is prepared to talk with Hamas—which refuses to recognize Israel or renounce violence.

“We didn’t negotiate directly with Hamas whatsoever, we did everything through the Egyptian mediators and also with the help of the Germans,” said Regev. He noted that Hamas remains a terrorist group and the deal was simply to rescue Shalit—not an endorsement of Hamas, who praised the freed terrorists.

“The idea here of course was to have our young serviceman released… Hamas, as you can see, is calling those who were convicted of killing innocent civilians, of killing children—Hamas calls them heroes, and I think that says exactly who Hamas is,” said Regev.

“They are against peace, they are against reconciliation [with Israel], and they’re not a partner in peace. We hope the Palestinian Authority [under Abbas] will be such a partner. We remain ready to negotiate [with them]; we hope they pick up the ball.”

Following the announcement of the deal last week, a Hamas leader, Ezzet Al-Resheq, told The Palestinian Information Center (PIC) website that Hamas received 90 percent of its demands.

(By Joshua Spurlock,, October 21, 2011)