The negotiations for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit have been experiencing difficulties because of internal power struggles within the Palestinian Authority on the issue of a unity government.
Sources in Israel rejected Abu Mazen’s demands to include Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Sa’adat (who murdered Minister Rehavam Ze’evi) in the deal to release Shalit. According to the sources, “Abu Mazen can forget it.”
The sources added that there is no crisis in the talks to release Shalit and there is no reason to be pessimistic. However, they said that the talks are moving at a slow pace.
During the talks a huge argument broke out on the issue of how many prisoners Israel will release in conjunction with Shalit, and how many will be released after. According to reports in the Arab press, Israel had agreed to release a few hundred prisoners in two phases: the first with the release of Shalit, and the second a few weeks after his return. Israel wants to increase the number of prisoners released in the second round in order not be seen as releasing most of the prisoners to Hamas. A massive release in the second phase, only after Shalit is returned, will be seen as a step to bolster Abu Mazen.
With that, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will arrive to the region next week in an attempt to take advantage of the post-war momentum in order to bolster the moderate Arab states and to revive the peace process.
Rice will also raise creative solutions to the deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians. She will meet Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen, and will demand that the proposed Palestinian unity government will accept the three conditions of the international community: recognition of Israel, acceptance of past agreements, and renouncing terrorism.