The JTA wire is carrying a report that outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has fired Amos Gilad, his chief negotiator with Egypt and the man responsible both for achieving a ceasefire with Hamas and for securing the release of imprisoned soldier Gilad Shalit.
The reason for the firing was Gilad's public criticism of Olmert's last minute decision to link Shalit's release to the nearly-completed ceasefire deal -- a deal it must be noted which would not only open Gaza's borders to normal commerce for the first time since the Palestinian elections, but would also guarantee the security of Sderot, Ashkelon, and other Israeli border communities from the cross-border rocket fire that provoked last month's horrendous incursion into Gaza.
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Olmert's anger was provoked by an interview Gilad gave with the Hebrew-language daily Ma'ariv. According to the Jerusalem Post:
In the Ma'ariv story, which appeared on the eve of a critical decision by the security cabinet to link opening the Gaza border crossings to Schalit's release, Gilad was quoted as saying, "I don't understand what they are trying to do. Insult the Egyptians? We've already done that. This is insanity, simply insanity. Egypt remains almost our last ally here. For what? We are harming national security."
Shalit's family criticized the decision to fire Gilad, attributing it to "ego games" played by politicians. According to the Jerusalem Post:
The Campaign for the Return of Gilad Schalit responded harshly to Gilad's suspension, calling the move part of the ego games being played by politicians.
The campaign, active in raising international awareness for Schalit since his kidnapping in June 2006, issued a statement saying, "it is both distressing and worrisome that [while] an Israeli soldier is in captivity, ego games are the issue occupying the attention of our leaders.
"If they would have invested half of the effort that they invest in internal politics to advance the release of Gilad Schalit, he would have been home a long time ago."
Adding to the sense of turmoil and chaos, a source in the Israeli Defense Ministry -- for which Gilad works -- publicly criticized Olmert for the removal and clarified that Gilad
continues to deal with matters related to international sources, including Egypt, on behalf of the defense establishment.
The defense ministry source went on to say
the prime minister's decision not to use Amos Gilad's abilities and experience is his right, but the body being hurt by this is the State of Israel.
Jerusalem Post analyst Herb Keinon considers Gilad perhaps the most powerful man in Israel since his appointment as IDF spokesman in 2002. In recent years, Gilad has been responsible for what Israelis call the "Egyptian track," the peace negotiations with different Palestinian factions mediated through officials at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. According to Keinon, in addition to the Egyptian track,
Gilad was also instrumental in the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and a key interlocutor with the Americans and the Europeans.
Gilad was respected, had decades of experience, and was also considered by his interlocutors to have the trust of the highest echelon of Israel's political pyramid.
Keinon attributes Gilad's fall to a power struggle between Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak in the waning days of the Olmert administration. Olmert, forced out of office by a corruption scandal and having presided over two inconclusive, at best, wars (in Lebanon in 2006 and against Gaza last month), is looking to secure his legacy. At the very least, he wants to lay a foundation for the release of Shalit, whose capture by infiltrators from Gaza in 2006 helped spark the 2006 Lebanon War. Barak, also concerned about his legacy as his Labor Party has slipped from its once dominant position in Israeli politics to its current fourth-place behind the rabidly racist right wing Yisrael Beiteinu, is more interested in securing a stable middle term peace with Hamas.
Gilad may well have made his controversial comments with the foreknowledge of Barak. At the very least, Keinon contends that the public nature of his sacking indicates that Olmert was attacking both men, while seeking to shore up his own image with the Israeli public.
Olmert's days, of course, are numbered, and Benjamin Netanyahu, his most likely replacement, is on record as being opposed to any negotiated settlement with any Palestinian entity. Still, an eighteen-month ceasefire with Hamas in the Kadima government's waning days would greatly improve the possibilities of reaching a lasting peace sometime in the near future.
That possibility now appears to be off the table, victim of political grandstanding and internal strife within the Israeli government. I only hope the parties responsible for this failure travel personally to Sderot and Ashkelon to explain to the long-suffering civilians why they must continue rushing off to their bomb shelters at all hours of the day and night.