In the past couple of weeks there has been a fury of news about the possible return of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, and for good cause after two years of nervous waiting.
The negotiated deal was ready to be implemented between June 20-25, but earlier in the week, Hezbollah added some Palestinian prisoners to their list, Olmert shuffled his feet, and then all of a sudden Mossad is declaring that the captives are likely dead. After an outcry against the political move from the Israeli public and specifically the captive soldiers’ families the cabinet is now set to discuss a written deal with Hezbollah on Sunday.
thoughts and analysis after the jump
Apparently the cabinet is very supportive of a deal to bring Goldwasser and Regev home, even if it means releasing prisoners with blood on their hands, most notably Samir Kuntar, the infamous Lebanese terrorist convicted of four brutal murders in 1979. According the the Jerusalem Post there are at least 15 ministers who will vote in favor of the written agreement. They are:

Still, those who support the move include Health Minister Ya’acov Ben Yizri (Gil Pensioners), Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit (Kadima), National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor), Public Security Minister Avi Dichter (Kadima), Tamir, Avraham-Balila, Deputy Premier Haim Ramon (Kadima), Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon (Labor), Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadle (Labor), Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog (Labor), Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai (Shas), Communications Minister Ariel Attias (Shas), Minister-without-Portfolio Meshulam Nahari (Shas), Religious Services Minister Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) and Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra (Kadima).

Those that have vocalized support for the deal include all 4 cabinet members from Shas, some very big names from Olmert’s own Kadima party–notably Avi Dichter and Haim Ramon. That Avi Dichter is supporting the deal is quite significant, considering his former tenure as Deputy and Director of the Shin Bet from 1999-2005. Haim Ramon is significant for two reasons. One, he is a high ranking minister in Olmert’s party, and this could be a sign that his party is abandoning him. Two, Ramon was the head of Labor under Ehud Barack’s go at PM; he was also the first Labor minister to leave for Kadima. If Olmert is opposed to the deal, and Ramon, one of the most outspoken advocates of the 2006 Lebanon war, is voting for it, this could also be an important omen of inter-party politics. I am incredibly pleased to see Ghaleb Majadle on this list. Majadle was appointed to the cabinet as the very first Arab minister to ever be granted such a post. He was unanimously voted into the cabinet back in January of 2007 and has since been a relatively quiet character. He recently made a bold step in criticizing attempts by Labor MKs to dismantle the government, and he now is potentially putting his neck out in the name of freeing Jewish Israeli soldiers held captive by enemy forces.
Most notably absent from this list is Tzipi Livni, who many suppose could be preparing for her own Prime Ministerial run. Perhaps she is going to go with Olmert on this one in hopes of retaining his support for her own run? Maybe she is keeping ‘mum’ until Sunday because it keeps her in a more powerful position. Maybe she just honestly doesn’t know! This is a complicated situation that could provide precedent for future negotiations to frfee captive soldiers, like Gilad Shalit–captured by Hamas in the summer of 2006.
Quoted in Ha’aretz, Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said, “We must do everything to bring the boys home, and if a deal like this was prepared for the release of Gilad Shalit, I would vote in favor of that also.”
And on that front, the Shin Bet has announced that they may release Palestinian prisoners with blood on their hands in the name of releasing Shalit, seeking to draw his two year captivity to an end, as well.
I am still perplexed as to the motives for these moves. Clearly the move to pronounce them dead was political. Seemingly the intelligence community would have been able to convince the families of the captive soldiers. Ehud Goldwasser’s mother asked “Why now?” when news was released that the soldiers may be pronounced “killed in action.” So if they might have been dead, and now they’re not, why now? I think Israel got cold feet about giving a substantial peaceful gesture. After these years, Israel is again, apparently, reaching out with an olive branch. But why now? I am by nature a skeptic and a cynic, so my initial reaction is to presume it’s about legacy. Olmert knows he’s on his way out; his approval ratings are even lower than Bush’s–the two are the least appreciated elected premiers in the free world.
On the topic of leaving a legacy, I think Saeb Erekat put it best, reflecting on how Olmert and Abbas will be perceived do they manage to sign a negotiated deal.