Saturday, February 14, 2009

Only a flesh wound

It doesn't make any sense for Hamas to insist, the way it did Saturday, that talks on a more-stable Gaza truce collapsed because Israel insisted on the release of a captured soldier, unless the hostage is already dead. Hamas has so much to gain from any agreement -- an end to hostilities, the opening of Gaza's borders, relief of suffering by civilians, the repatriation of 1,000 prisoners -- that it would be the height of irresponsibility to reject any deal. Some 1,300 Gazans were killed in the fighting that ended last month because of Hamas' refusal to even talk to Israel, its neighbor on two sides. With so much to gain, the only reason Hamas would refuse to release Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured in 2006, before allowing a more-permanent truce to take effect is that Israel will not be amenable to compromise if he is dead. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insisted Saturday that Shalit be released before further agreements would be reached. "The prime minister's position is that Israel will not reach understandings on a truce before the release of Gilad Shalit," Olmert's office said in a statement, according to the Reuters international news service. Hamas had said earlier that a ceasefire agreement was imminent after progress in talks mediated by Egypt. A Hamas representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, told Al Jazeera TV that Israel wanted "to make the deal fail" by insisting on Shalit's release. "We consider that this kind of Israeli procrastination is for the aim of achieving more objectives and wasting more time and effort," Hamdan said. "But our position is still as it was, and what was agreed has to be implemented fully. Otherwise, Israel will bear the consequences of any failure." In fact, Palestinians living in Gaza will bear the consequences, and it's about time that Hamas takes the lives of its citizenry seriously. Hamas forces were routed in the latest conflict, and would have surrendered long ago if the group was concerned about the people. It's beginning to look as if Hamas is simply incapable of playing a constructive role in the future of the Palestinians.

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