Friday

24th Feb 2017

EU to celebrate Shalit swap despite concerns

The EU is set to cheer the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, expected on Tuesday (19 October), despite concerns it could pave the way for military strikes on Hamas and Iran.

According to plans negotiated by Egyptian, German and Israeli intelligence, Shalit, who was captured by Palestinian militant group Hamas five years ago, will be handed over to the Red Cross in Gaza before noon local time.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Hamas poster. The 25-year-old is to be reunited with his family after five years and four months of complete isolation (Photo: Tom Spender)

The NGO will take him via the Rafah crossing point to a secure area in Egypt's Sinai peninsula for 15 to 20 minutes and then to Israel via the Kerem Shalom point. Israel will at each stage of the process release tranches of 477 Palestinian prisoners. A second set of 550 prisoners is to be freed in December.

The deal was finalised by Egyptian security chief Murad Muwafi and the new head of Israeli military intelligence Yoram Cohen. But the blueprint for the handover was drawn up by Gerhard Conrad, currently the chief of staff in the German intelligence service, the BND.

BND spokesman Dieter Arndt told EUobserver Conrad worked on the plan for the past two and a half years. "Almost the whole draft of the contract was done by Conrad. It was a long term involvement, but the final glory belongs to Egypt alone," he said.

Arndt noted that Conrad took off his BND hat for the work before returning to the service: "It was a personal thing. He was not acting on behalf of the federal government of Germany or the BND, but on behalf of all sides, Israel and Hamas, for the whole time the negotiations were going on." EU governments are banned from negotiating with Hamas because it is on the union's blacklist of terrorist entities.

The EU last week endorsed the deal on humanitarian grounds. "I warmly welcome the news that Gilad Shalit will soon be able to return home after five years of captivity, putting an end to the long ordeal that he and his family have endured," foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton said.

An EU diplomat earlier told this website Shalit's release could help with EU endorsement of Palestine's bid to upgrade its UN status and reopen the question of delisiting Hamas from the terrorist register.

But despite the atmosphere of good will, some commentators believe the Shalit swap spells trouble for the region.

"Speaking as someone who has been involved in these things [Israel-Hamas prisoner swaps] in the past, I don't think we are moving toward any kind of reconciliation between Israel and Hamas. What usually happens afterwards is that the Israeli government gives Hamas a whack to show that it's still strong. If I was Hamas, I wouldn't leave any of my top leaders out in the open after this," one former EU diplomat said.

For his part, Israeli journalist Alex Fishman, reputed to have close ties to Israeli security chiefs, in an op-ed last week said the Shalit deal is designed to "clear the desk" of the Israeli government for a strike against Iran's alleged nuclear bomb facilities. "The Europeans will be applauding us, and no less importantly it will boost the national consensus and the prime minister's image ahead of the next challenge [Iran]," he wrote.

Some recent developments on the international stage support Fishman's line.

US President Barack Obama at the UN general assembly in September gave Israel carte blanche for action against security threats. The US and the EU have upped anti-Iran rhetoric by accusing it of helping Syria to kill protesters and by exposing an alleged plot to assassinate a Saudi diplomat in Washington. They have also backed the rebellion against Syrian leader Bashar Assad, Iran's main ally.

Alon Ben-David, a senior Israeli defence journalist, cast doubt on the Shalit-Iran link, however.

He said the US and the EU are planning to impose a new round of sanctions on Iran. If these do not stop Tehran's nuclear programme, the next opportunity for military action will come only when the weather improves in spring next year. "Iran is an extremely serious issue. Whether Israel launches an operation against Iran has nothing to do with Shalit," he told EUobserver.

Ben-David agreed that Israel is likely to strike Hamas after the Shalit swap to show who is boss. But he noted the new Egypt-Hamas-Israel "mechanism" bodes well: "I don't think this will be used for anything political. But all parties have developed more trust. We have a new mechanism for negotiating humanitarian issues if there is a military clash."

EU opinions multiply on Palestinian UN upgrade

Five EU countries have joined France in saying the UN should upgrade Palestine's status. Three have joined the UK in saying No. Others fall in between the two camps or are staying out of the debate for now.

EU pitches counter-offers to Palestinian statehood bid

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton has unveiled an alternative proposal to a UN vote on recognising Palestine. But soft language on Israeli settlements and a competing French idea put the scheme in doubt.

Interview

The Armenia-Azerbaijan war: A refugee's story

The lynching of a woman in the Soviet Union in 1988 gives insight into why reconciliation remains so hard in the 30-year long war on Europe's eastern fringe.

News in Brief

  1. Labour ousts Ukip in Brexit homeland
  2. Dutch lower house approves EU-Ukraine treaty
  3. WTO says Russian pork ban was illegal
  4. Belgian nuclear plant made 'significant progress' on safety
  5. Report: Commission gauging EU support for Poland sanctions
  6. Irish PM expected to quit amid police scandal
  7. After Brexit vote, 100,000 UK firms registered in Ireland
  8. Bayrou to support Macron in French presidential election

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. QS World MBA TourMeet with Leading International Business Schools in Paris on March 4th
  2. Malta EU 2017Economic Governance: Agreement Reached on Structural Reform Support Programme for Member States
  3. Socialists & DemocratsWomen Have to Work Ten Years Longer to Match Lifetime Earnings of Men
  4. Counter BalanceTrans-Adriatic Pipeline Is a Major Risk for Banks, Warns New Analysis
  5. Martens CentreEU and US Migration Policies Compared: Join the Debate on February 28th
  6. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow
  7. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen
  8. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  10. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations
  11. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play
  12. UNICEFNumber of Ukrainian Children Needing Aid Nearly Doubles to 1 Million Over the Past Year

Latest News

  1. Don't blame Trump for Europe's insecurity
  2. EU rules out post-Brexit 'hard border' with Northern Ireland
  3. Fewer EU pupils being taught two foreign languages
  4. Women and child refugees face abuse in French camp
  5. Russian military creates 'information force'
  6. Spain MPs to probe €60bn bank bailouts
  7. Crowded race to win EU medicines agency
  8. Fighting environmental injustice in Europe

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Centre Maurits CoppietersThe Situation of Refugee Women in Europe
  2. Salzburg Global SeminarToward a Shared Culture of Health: Charting the Patient-Clinician Relationship
  3. European Free AllianceAustria Should Preserve & Promote Bilingual and Multinational Carinthia
  4. Martens CentreShow Your Love for Democracy! Take Part in Our Contest: "If It's Broken, Let's Fix It"
  5. CISPECloud Computing Leaders Establish Data Protection Standards to Protect Customer Data
  6. Malta EU 2017Landmark Deal Reached With European Parliament on Portability of Online Content
  7. Belgrade Security ForumBSF 2017: Building a Common Future in the Age of Uncertainty
  8. CESIEU Not to Revise the Working Time Directive
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAzerbaijan: 76 NGOs Urge the EU to Use President's Visit to Insist on Human Rights Reforms
  10. UNICEFDeadliest Winter for Migrant Children Crossing the Central Mediterranean
  11. World VisionGaza Staff Member Pleads Not Guilty
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region First to Consider Complete Ban on Microplastics in Cosmetics