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UPSTAGING SHARM EL SHEIK

Hamas Tries To Upstage Sharm El Sheik Summit By Releasing Recording Of Abducted IDF Soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Counters By Announcing Good Will Gesture To Fatah On Release Of 250 Of Its Prisoners

Abbas, Olmert and Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheik

Hamas succeeded in getting into the act - it upstaged the Sharm el Sheik summit by releasing a recording of captured IDF soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit. The emergency summit, hosted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was called as a show of solidarity with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas whose Fatah movement was driven out of the Gaza Strip in a bloody showdown with Hamas last week. IsraCast is of the view, that although the summit events will be a sign of things to come the real test will be over security and terror issue on the West Bank which is controlled by Abbas.

PM Ehud Olmert

Hamas tried to upstage the Sharm el Sheik summit by releasing recorded appeal from abducted IDF soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit and it succeeded. Although boycotted and not mentioned Hamas demonstrated it is still a side to be reckoned with. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert countered by announcing his plan to release 250 Fatah prisoners 'without blood on their hands'. Hamas signaled its readiness to move on a prisoner exchange, Olmert responded by ignoring Hamas and playing the Fatah card. This is a sign of things to come after the Hamas takeover of Gaza and the latest attempt at 'saving Mahmoud Abbas'. Hamas will try and consolidate its role as ruler of Hamastan while Olmert will cooperate in bolstering Mahmoud Abbas as president of Fatahland on the West Bank. Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah back Abbas but are categorically opposed to a separation between Gaza and the West Bank which could have wide - ranging implications for both those countries. Cairo and Amman do not want to take responsibility for the Palestinians in any new regional framework as has been mooted in some quarters.

President Mahmoud Abbas

The Israeli assessment is that Hamas released the recording, the first sign of life since Shalit was captured one year ago, out of weakness. The radical Islamist movement now faces 'pressure to demonstrate to the million and a half Palestinians of Gaza that it can feed and care for them'. Should Israel now enter negotiations with Hamas to secure the release of Corporal Shalit? Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh declares 'absolutely not!' Hamas must be isolated and the more it is the easier it will be to free the captive soldier. The Egyptian mediator Omar Suleiman had achieved a deal on Israel releasing 450 security prisoners in return for Shalit. But Sneh says it's not a matter of numbers but the 'type of terrorists'. He noted the many bereaved Israeli families who mourn the loss of relatives murdered by terrorists now in Israeli prisons. Hamas demands that Israel set free Palestinian killers with ' blood on their hands'. Prime Minister Olmert appears to agree with the defense establishment's position not to give in - Olmert disparaged the media manipulation of Hamas. The dramatic release of the Shalit recording by Hamas shortly before the Sharm el Sheik that was called to show support for Fatah indicated that Hamas was a player to be reckoned with. The fact is that Hamas could have scored an even greater media coup by releasing the recording precisely at the time Mubarak and the other participants made their public speeches. The addresses were carried live, prime time on Arab TV networks as well as in Israel. The TV coverage from Sharm el Sheik would have been interrupted to carry the Gilad Shalit recording but Hamas apparently decided not to embarrass Mubarak and burn its bridges with Egypt.

King Abdullah

As agreed during his trip to Washington, Olmert fulfilled his role in promising gestures that would 'significantly' improve the life of Palestinians under Fatah control on the West Bank. The Americans have been pressing Israel to left some checkpoints and other security restrictions. The catch is that the terrorists always exploit this for stepped up attacks and infiltration of suicide bombers. The atmospherics among the four leaders were fine - everyone appeared to be on the same page about backing Abbas and Fatah against Hamas. But their trumpeting about new crossroads, reconciliation and peace sounded old hat after the takeover of Gaza by the radical Islamism. The future of the current contest will not be decided by pledges at summits but by actions on the ground. Will Mahmoud Abbas really act to enforce his 'one law, one authority or one gun' credo? Or will he again take the easy way out and give in to his own Fatah terrorists on the West Bank?

They will not readily give up their power but if Abbas does not defuse this threat, it is unlikely that Olmert will move very far in implementing his good will gestures. The fact is that most Israelis believe that the whole Oslo process that allowed Yasser Arafat to return to the West Bank and Gaza has been a monumental Israeli concession that has not lead to a Roadmap for two independent states. On the contrary, this historic good will gesture has lead to radical Islamism now threatening to take over the whole Palestinian movement and waving the jihad banner to destroy the Jewish state.

David Essing

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