The Israeli government is proud of the agreement it struck that led to the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit today after five years of imprisonment, but don't expect any change in its approach to Hamas, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren told The Cable today.
"Hamas remains a terrorist organization. It doesn't meet any of the Quartet's criteria for negotiating. Its charter still calls for the destruction of the State of Israel and the annihilation of the Jewish people worldwide. It's a genocidal organization," Oren said in an interview. "Hamas itself is not saying it's a partner for peace talks. That's not in the bargain."
The deal to trade Shalit for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners was mediated by the Egyptian government and German mediators; no further deals or indirect interactions between the Israeli government and Hamas are in the works.
Those prisoners included Nasser Yateima, who was imprisoned for his role in a 2002 suicide bombing at an Israeli hotel on Passover, Walid Abdel-Hadi, who was involved in several attacks including a 2002 suicide bombing in a Jerusalem cafe that killed 11, and Ahlam Tamimi, who participated in bombing of a Sbarro's restaurant in Jerusalem in 2001 where 16 died.
Oren said the reason that the Israeli government took the risk of releasing so many dangerous prisoners was due to the unwritten social contract between the state and the people that Israel will do everything in its power to recover captured citizens.
"This deal goes to the very heart of the relationship between the State of Israel and the army of Israel. At the end of the day, yes, there's a heavy price to pay here, but as a result of Gilad Shalit's release, are we more motivated to go out and defend our country? Unquestionably, yes," he said. "That's the true strategic value, not just the humanitarian value, of what we've done."
But why did Hamas make the deal, in Oren's view?
"I think they're weak, weakened by the situation in Syria. They have been weakened by the situation in Gaza, where there's been a complete implosion of support for them in Gaza, where the economic situation is deplorable," he said.
Oren said that this weakened position led to a steady decline in Hamas' demands over the past two and a half years, which created a situation that made the terms of the deal amenable to Israel. Oren argued that the success of the deal does not strengthen Hamas, either in Gaza or with regard to their competition with the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas.
"They may celebrate for a few hours, but the people in Gaza are going to wake up tomorrow in the same position that were in today, and that's not a very favorable position at all," Oren said. "There's no obscuring that fact.... It's not a victory for them."
Despite some criticism inside Israel against the government for striking the deal, Oren said that the takeaway lesson of today's events is that the current Israeli government is capable of making hard and painful decisions -- and can deliver if there's a fair deal on the table. He also said that the reaction of the Palestinians to the deal highlights a fundamental difference between the two peoples.
"Today's events really showed a gap between Israeli society and Palestinian society. We celebrated life. They celebrated death," Oren said. "They celebrated the release of people who have killed dozens of men, women, and children. And it's a huge ethical difference."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.