Netanyahu: Israel Serious About Shalit Deal, German Mediator Still on Task

Campaign for Shalit release ratchets up efforts, citing general deadlock in talks; Netanyahu's office says government still working within framework of last proposal put forth by Gerhard Conrad.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel was serious about its intentions and actions to secure the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.

"The State of Israel is serious, in its intentions and actions, to bring home Gilad Shalit," Netanyahu's office said in a statement, a day after reports emerged that a new European mediator has been appointed to try to advance a deal with Shalit's Hamas captors for a prisoner exchange.

Shimon Peres and Shalit
Tomer Appelbaum

Netanyahu's office added that the government would continue to work with German mediator Gerhard Conrad, to secure a deal with Hamas based on the latest proposal put forth.

A new Israeli negotiator, David Meidan, was officially tapped to coordinate the talks this week to replace Hagai Hadas, who recently left his position two years into the job.

Shalit's father Noam, told Channel 10 on Wednesday that no progress seems to have been made in the negotiations for his son's release.

"Despite recent reports made by Hamas officials, according to what we know recent steps taken have failed," the elder Shalit said in an interview.

He added that he and his wife have yet to meet with the Meidan, a veteran Mossad official.

"We talked with him on the phone and he said he would meet with us as soon as possible," Shalit said.

Meidan's appointment is meant to signal the importance of the international element of the efforts to reach a deal, as Shalit negotiations with Hamas have been conducted through German mediator Gerhard Conrad for the past two years.

Noam Shalit's comments come as activists plan to step up efforts to convince the government to secure Gilad's release. Organizers of the campaign cite the absence of any reports on progress and the general deadlock in talks on prisoner exchanges as the reason behind wanting to step up their campaign.

The next steps of the campaign are still being finalized, but Haaretz has obtained a copy of an internal letter sent by the chairman of the campaign, Shimshon Liebman, to key activists. "It seems we are in need of a major change in the campaign," he wrote.

"The struggle can not rest on displays of solidarity alone . . . we already have the sympathy. Now we need to look at the situation and ask the following question: What can cause the prime minister to make a decision? Otherwise we'll need to operate on a more political track, talk the political language and touch upon political issues. In our country, being what we've been so far is not enough."

The campaign's organizers and the family expect a significant response from the public if and when they decide to intensify their protests.

Over the holiday, several hundred people and a number of key public figures visited the protest tent, including Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and President Shimon Peres. Peres expressed optimism after the meeting, saying that he was "wholeheartedly convinced we will see Gilad alive and well and at home."