Ehud Olmert, acting Prime Minister of Israel and the head of the new Ariel Sharon-created Kadima party, just scored big in Israel with the mostly bloodless seizure in Jericho of six Palestinian prisoners who were allegedly involved in the murder of an Israeli cabinet minister in 2001.
Many Palestinian have been up in arms, furious with an incursion into their territory, after British and American monitors of this prison and inmates announced that they had departed the site this morning.
Despite the gloss of drama, most people I’m talking to in political circles think that this deal was rigged behind the scenes between Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
According to some, Abbas indicated through back channels that efforts would be made to release the prisoners — and knowing that this would be unacceptable to both Israel and other international observers — Abbas probably laid the groundwork for Israel to come and extract prisoners with the appearance of semi-coercion.
Abbas wins because he is rid of problematic prisoners whose release would alienate Americans, Europeans, and other observers. Olmert wins because this appeared to be a bold and decisive raid, with little bloodshed, and which produced results that most in Israel feel is just regarding these alleged murderers of Israel’s Minister of Tourism.
While popular tensions have been aggravated, most think that in the end this high tension drama that ran nearly all day was a product of implicit coordination between the Palestinians and Israelis.
So counterintuitively, this episode today may be part of a broader range of future “deal-making” and may have been an important confidence-building-measure regarding future negotiations.
Stay tuned — but the word in circles I’m in tonight with sources linking to Palestinian Authority officials and Israeli political and government officials is that this episode may be a net plus to the Israel-Palestine situation, rather than the negative that many of the press are treating it as.
— Steve Clemons
Update: The Israeli incursion into Jericho has led to three deaths — one guard, one prisoner, and one other Palestinian — so the affair was less bloodless than originally reported.
While some around Abbas are still furious with the incursion, there are key players in Israel who think that beneath this drama, there was an implicit deal struck. As of last night, Kadima’s electoral mandate surged from 35-36 seats in Parliament to a projected 42 seats if the election were held today. And Abbas is rid of a brewing prisoner issue that would have served only to further destabilize matters while Hamas is assembling a government.
— Steve Clemons