Labor MK: Shalit Could Be Free in Two Weeks

Daniel Ben Simon: Former PM Ehud Olmert didn't want to pay the price for Shalit's freedom.

Labor MK Daniel Ben Simon said Saturday that abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit could be free within the next two weeks.

Shalit was abducted by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid in 2006 and has been held captive since. Hamas, the rulers of the Gaza Strip, have demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners jailed in Israel in exchange for Shalit's freedom.

Ben Simon praised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, saying he has done what no Israeli leader has before him.

"There is no other leader who has done what Netanyahu has done, and he has done and will do what no one in the Labor Party has ever dared to do," Ben Simon said, adding that the negotiations were stuck during the tenure of former premier Ehud Olmert because he "didn't want to pay the price."

Despite reports earlier Saturday that Netanyahu told Ben Simon the deal would be finalized within a week or two, the Labor MK and the Prime Minister's Bureau issued statements Saturday denying Netanyahu had made such a remark.

Ben Simon did confirm that Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti's name is on the list of prisoners Israel may free as part of the deal. He added that the main discussion in Israel is whether to release Barghouti to the West Bank or deport him abroad for a "cooling off period."

However, Ben Simon added that Barghouti could also potentially become a partner in peace talks with Israel. "It is possible that Israel will sit opposite Barghouti [at the negotiating table] in two years' time," he said.

Meanwhile, on Friday, the London-based daily Al-Hayyat reported that the German mediators overseeing the negotiations hope to convince Hamas to reduce the number of prisoners it is demanding be released in exchange for Shalit.

According to Al-Hayyat, three major issues were delaying conclusion of deal: First, Israel is refusing to release 50 of the 450 prisoners requested by Hamas for the swap; second, Israel will not rescind its demand to exile 130 of the released prisoners; third, Israel does not want to free Israeli Arabs as part of the deal.