Netanyahu: Israel Ready to Tackle Other Challenges Now That Shalit Released

Premier thanks ministers for approving deal that secured IDF soldier's release from Hamas captivity, say they helped bring Shalit back to Israel 'alive and well.'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday thanked the ministers of his cabinet for approving the prisoner swap with Hamas that secured the release of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, adding that the government was ready to tackle other issues at hand.

Speaking before the weekly government meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu referred to the recently implemented prisoner exchange deal, saying that "last week we brought Gilad Shalit back to Israel alive and well" after more than five-and-a-half years in Hamas captivity.

Netanyahu, Knesset, Shalit swap
Avi Ohayon

"I wish to thank the ministers for sharing the load of our decision," the premier said. "Now, after two weeks of extraordinary public unity, we will vigorously continue to deal with the challenges we have been facing" since he entered office more than two years ago.

Earlier Sunday, opposition leader and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni criticized the swap deal, in which 1,027 Palestinian prisoners were to be released for Shalit, saying that it bolstered Hamas and weakened the moderate Palestinian Authority.

In an interview with Israel Radio, Livni said “Israel is losing its military deterrence,” and that the next phase of the prisoner exchange, in which another 550 Palestinian prisoners are to be released, must be “coordinated with Abbas, rather than with Hamas.”

Livni further stated that the peace process must be restarted as a “matter of national interest” which will show the world that it does not act solely after soldiers are kidnapped.

Two weeks ago, Haaretz reported that in peace talks with the Palestinian Authority in 2009, Israel agreed to release those 550 prisoners as a good-will gesture toward Abbas, when and if a swap deal with Hamas was to take place.

The deal was struck in order to strengthen the moderate Abbas government in the West Bank so as to not bolster Hamas at the expense of the Palestinian Authority.

In response to Livni’s comments, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz stated that the Shalit deal followed guidelines set by Kadima under Livni, and that her comments are “baseless.”

In a week's time the Knesset is scheduled to begin its winter session, with a host of burning economic issues that arose over the past several months due to appear on the agenda.

These topics include the recommendations of the Trajtenberg committee for economic change.

Despite Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's demands, the Knesset members are not expected to happily agree to pass the Trajtenberg reforms in one go.

Some reforms are expected to raise objections from coalition parties, including Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu, while MKs are expected to want to expand on others. Meanwhile, the tycoons and their lobbyists are expected to harshly oppose some of the reforms proposed by the committee addressing economic concentration.