Cautious Optimism

As we all eagerly await the anticipated release this Tuesday of Gilad Shalit I would like to share an article from May 2011 in which I expressed cautious optimism regarding the release of Gilad Shalit.  More important however, I would like to share with you what led me to that conclusion.  I hope the below piece helps you understand why, after more than five years, Hamas has decided “to make the deal.”

May 2011

by Avi Melamed

In May 2011 I was interviewed by the European online news portal about the odds for a successful prisoner swap deal between Israel and Hamas.
In this interview, I expressed cautious optimism regarding the odds of such a deal that would lead to the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier that was abducted by Hamas in June 2006.

Here is a quote from that article:

“For his part, Avi Melamed, a former Israeli official turned security expert, believes the Arab Spring could change things but in a different way.

Melamed said that post-revolutionary Egypt – which is a mediator in the Shalit talks – is likely to put pressure on Hamas to free the 24-year-old soldier in order to gain credibility for itself with the EU and US.

“I am cautiously optimistic. Today Hamas has to refigure its situation in the newly-shaped region. It is enjoying a warming-up of relations with Egypt and the support of the Muslim Brotherhood. But these actors may need Hamas to become more flexible so that they can gain face with West,” he explained.”

Here is a link to the article:

The final article did not reflect the entirety of the analysis that I gave during the interview.

Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to share with you the part that was not included in the published version:  Hamas had held Gilad Shalit in captivity for more than five years.

The current events in the Arab world are resulting in the restructuring and repositioning of different factors in the region, and among them Hamas.

Hamas is currently experiencing increasing pressure in multiple fronts.

One of its major challenges is the uprising in Syria.

Hamas, whose headquarters is currently in Damascus, has, for many years, enjoyed the warm hug of Assad.  The brutality of the Assad regime against the Syrian people during this uprising is causing and increasing escalation in violence and Hamas is now pushed into a corner.  The Syrian people view Hamas as an ally of the Assad regime.  Hamas is no longer welcomed by the Syrian people and is seriously considering the possibility of moving its headquarters elsewhere.

The most immediate and natural alternative is Egypt.

In the post-Mubarak era, Hamas – which defines itself officially as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood movement – expects to open a new and warmer chapter in its relationship with Egypt after a chilly period of relations during Mubarak’s rule.

The Muslim Brotherhood will be a powerful member in Egypt’s next government, a government that will have to provide solutions for 85 million people.  The only way that Egypt will be able to successfully confront its enormous economic challenges is by cooperating with the international community, and mostly with the West.

Egypt’s coffers are empty.   Under Mubarak the Egyptian economy was almost bankrupt, and since the revolution, this country, now practically void of tourists, is sinking deeper and deeper into an economic abyss.  Cooperation with the West is the only solution.

So, the chain of events is simple.

Hamas, due to its growing difficulties, will need Egypt and the support of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim brotherhood, if it wants to be part of a government that can offer real solutions to its citizens, will have to cooperate with the West.

Currently the West views the Muslim brotherhood in a reserved way.  As far as the West is concerned, the Muslim brotherhood has to prove that it can play a positive and stabilizing role. The West will play tough with the Muslim Brotherhood – if you want to do business with us you have to deliver the goods.

And in business like in business – the weaker side pays more.

Hamas is the weakest of all the above-mentioned factors.  Therefore, Hamas will have to pay the heaviest price.  Hamas’ weakness will inevitably force it to compromise on its demands and make a deal with Israel.  The weaker Hamas gets, the better the odds are that it will be more flexible, thus opening the path to a deal.

Therefore, there is a place for cautions optimism regarding such a deal soon.

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