After days of meetings of senior ministers, the Israeli inner cabinet met into the night Monday for final marathon discussions on the prisoner-swap deal. Israel's response to the prisoner exchange deal, which would secure the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for captured Israeli occupation soldier Gilad Shalit, is "Yes, butâ¦"
The condition placed by Israel in its response refers to the names of "heavy prisoners" Israel demands are expelled to Gaza or abroad. According to Israel, these prisoners will not be allowed to return to the West Bank. This stance stems from a serious concern that these "heavy prisoners" may revive Hamas' resistance infrastructure in the West Bank and resume the armed conflict and attacks against the Israeli occupation.
A German mediator was expected on Tuesday to give Hamas the Israeli response, according to a Reuters report.
A Palestinian close to the negotiations said a German mediator carrying a proposal approved by Hamas has also set a Wednesday deadline for Israeli action. Former Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who is serving multiple life sentences after being convicted in fatal attacks against Israelis, would be allowed to return to his West Bank home, a Palestinian close to the negotiations said. Hamas agreed that several other hard-core convicts would be deported, he said.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri insisted those high-level talks merely proved Israel was behind the delay in reaching deal. "The scene that took place yesterday inside the Israeli government is proof that Israel is responsible for hindering and delaying the prisoner exchange agreement," Abu Zuhri told AFP. "The division inside the Israeli government is responsible for hindering the agreement," he added. Abu Zuhri said Hamas had not "closed the door on the negotiations" but that it would adhere to its conditions.
In addition, an official familiar with the talks told the Reuters news agency that Hamas would not lessen its demands upon receiving Israel's latest response. He added that any agreement would have to be approved by the organization's leadership in Damascus.
According to the Israeli Prime Minister's Office, the inner cabinet has given Israeli mediator Hagai Hadas a "green light" to continue negotiations with Hamas over the deal.
After more than four hours of talks, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office released a statement early Tuesday morning saying only that instructions were given to the negotiating team about "the continuation of efforts to bring Gilad Schalit home safe and sound." There was no word of a decision, further meetings or steps. The decision to continue negotiations came in lieu of any final decision by the government to agree unequivocally to Hamas's demands.