Israel and Hamas in indirect negotiations on prisoner exchange


What happened: There is renewed hope of a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas after Yaron Blum, the government’s special negotiator for hostages and prisoners of war, met yesterday with the families of the four Israelis held by Hamas at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

  • Last week, the Prime Minister convened the ministerial committee responsible for the Israeli captives to update them on the efforts to reach a prisoner exchange deal.
  • Earlier this month Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh told Arab media he was “optimistic” about the possibility of a prisoner exchange deal with Israel. Haniyaeh said, “We have four prisoners and we are ready for indirect talks … I’m optimistic about the possibility of reaching an agreement with the occupation in order to complete a prisoner exchange deal and achieve our goals.”
  • Last night the Goldin family issued a statement: “There is an opportunity to return from the hands of Hamas our son Hadar and Sgt. Oron Saul along with the civilians Avera Mengistu and al-Sayed … missing this opportunity now would be a national irresponsibility.”

Context: Hamas holds the remains of Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul and Lt. Hadar Goldin, both killed in the 2014 Operation Protective Edge inside the Gaza Strip.

  • Hamas is also holding Ethiopian Israeli Avera Mengistu and Bedouin Israeli Hisham al-Sayed, both of whom suffer mental health issues, who crossed independently into Gaza in 2014 and 2015 respectively and were subsequently captured by Hamas.
  • Hamas are demanding that Israel must first release all teenage, female and elderly prisoners in addition to those who were rearrested after the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange. In return, Hamas is ready to release information on Israeli prisoners. Israel hoped to receive information on the captives in exchange for letting additional medical supplies into the Gaza Strip to help combat the coronavirus.
  • As in the past, Egyptian intelligence officials are facilitating the indirect talks. According to Israeli media reports the German mediator who was involved in the prisoner swap that led to the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011 has begun participating in the current talks between Israel and Hamas.
  • There is resistance from the Almagor Terror Victims Association who have warned against negotiations with Hamas in a letter to the government, “These processes have negative strategic implications that there is no way back from … we, the bereaved families and the victims of terror hear, a day after the memorial day of our loved ones and its taking place in double isolation, from our families and murdered loved ones, that the government plans to submit to Hamas and release the murderers of our loved ones … in the past, each release deal only brought about more bereavement and grief and so we demand not to leave such serious steps to a temporary government acting as a transitional government.”

Looking ahead: There is hope that a deal with Hamas could help promote calm on the Israel-Gaza border as part of a long-term ceasefire understanding. This would also allow Israel to expand infrastructure projects to improve the lives of Palestinians inside the Gaza Strip.