Israel would free 1,000 Palestinian prisoners if Hamas releases Gilad Shalit, the soldier its militants captured four years ago, but not at "any price," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last night.
In a televised live address, Netanyahu said Israelis wanted Shalit back safely but the nation could not "pay any price" because past experience showed that many Palestinians released had returned to carry out attacks on Israelis.
"The German mediator's offer which we agreed to accept called for the release of 1,000 terrorists. This is the price I am prepared to pay to bring Gilad home. I said yes to the deal and it is ready for immediate implementation," Netanyahu said.
He was referring to a moment last December when a prisoner exchange deal brokered by the German mediator, who has preferred to stay out of the media's glare, appeared imminent but did not come to fruition.
"There are prices that I am not prepared to pay and they are not included in this difficult deal," Netanyahu said. "I am steadfast on the principle that dangerous terrorists will not return to the areas of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] from where they can continue to harm Israel's citizens."
Netanyahu's remarks elicited an angry response from the soldier's family. "We are saddened by the fact that after four years in which Gilad is rotting away in some dark Hamas basement, the only that thing that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu manages to do is reenact a press conference held by his predecessor [Ehud] Olmert in March 2009 and brandish a list of four things that he did for our son, yet the list does not include freeing Gilad from Hamas," said Shalit's father, Noam.
Speaking yesterday at the Ruppin Institute of Agriculture, Emek Hefer, where the family was resting in the middle of its 12-day protest march to Jerusalem, Noam Shalit accused the premier of fear-mongering to rouse public opinion to his side.
"The prime minister chose to repeat the same old doomsday scenarios from 25 years ago, or even six years ago, about terrorists who are released from jail and resume murdering Israelis," Shalit said. "As if things have not changed since then, as if there aren't security services in the state of Israel whose job it is to prevent this - and they know how to deal with terrorists who pose any kind of threat."
"The heads of the security forces and numerous IDF chiefs of staff, both current and retired, support a prisoner swap despite the steep price and the risks it entails," said Shalit. "They are convinced that the security forces will know how to deal with imminent threats, all the while knowing that the risk entailed in abandoning Gilad is an existential one for the state and its citizens."
Shalit criticized Netanyahu's call for the public to pressure Hamas "at a time when he himself is unable to adhere to any means of pressuring [Hamas]."
Shalit cited the premier's decision to agree to the release of Hamas officials from jail, as well as the government's decision to lift the blockade over Gaza. "I call on you, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to listen to the voices of the masses who are marching with us and take strength from them to make this tough decision before it will be too late," he said.
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