JPost: 'Exactly 1,934 days after Hamas kidnapped Gilad Schalit near Kerem Shalom on the border with Gaza, the cabinet met in a dramatic meeting Tuesday night, approving a deal for his release. Twenty-six ministers voted to approve the prisoner exchange deal signed with Hamas, with only three voting against the deal.'
Israel and Hamas leaders said Tuesday they have brokered a deal to swap roughly 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas more than five years ago.
Shalit is expected to return to Israel within a few days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of an emergency cabinet meeting called to discuss the soldier's release.
"We will return Gilad healthy and whole to his family and all of Israel," he said. "The negotiations were difficult. ... We had to make difficult decisions but (the) correct one. With all the change taking place in the Middle East we did not know if a better deal or any deal would have been possible." ...
Today, I bring a proposal to the Government for a deal that will bring Gilad Shalit home alive and well; bring him home to his parents Aviva and Noam, his brother Yoel, his sister Hadas, his grandfather Zvi, and the entire people of Israel. Two and a half years ago, when the government was formed, I took upon myself, as my first priority, to bring Gilad home to his people, to his family - to bring him home safe and sound.
At the time, Gilad was already held in captivity for two and a half years, with no visits from the Red Cross, with no visits at all, and we did not know what state he was in. The first step I took, and we approved it here in the Government, was to get a video recording of Gilad, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when we saw it. We saw that he was functioning, physically, mentally and cognitively. We saw that he was functioning well. We knew that he was healthy and that he was alive. I regarded that tape as an insurance policy, because it obliged the Hamas before the international community to safeguard him, to keep him alive and maintain his health. But that was obviously only the first step. The most important mission that we had was more challenging - to actually bring Gilad home. To that end we held long and tough negotiations through the German mediator. These negotiations were based on a framework outlined by the previous government. They were long and exhausting and despite all our efforts, a deal was not reached.
I must point out that not a day went by without us trying various ways to bring Gilad home, any way possible, and that didn't work either. In the last few weeks, the negotiations were renewed in Cairo, this time with the Egyptian government as mediator. My instructions to the team were to adhere to the principles and framework that are important for the security of the State of Israel, which I will detail in the meeting.
There is an inbuilt tension between the desire to bring back an abducted soldier, or citizen, and the need to maintain the security of the citizens of Israel. This is my dual responsibility as Prime Minister. The deal I am bringing to the Government expresses the right balance between all of these considerations. I do not wish to hide the truth from you - it is a very difficult decision. I feel for the families of victims of terror, I appreciate their suffering and distress, I am one of them. But leadership must be examined at moments such as this, being able to make difficult, but right, decisions. I believe that we have reached the best deal we could have at this time, when storms are sweeping the Middle East. I do not know if in the near future we would have been able to reach a better deal or any deal at all. It is very possible that this window of opportunity, that opened because of the circumstances, would close indefinitely and we would never have been able to bring Gilad home at all. Therefore, for all of these reasons, I instructed the team to put their initials on the deal last Thursday, and today it was finalized and signed by both sides. ...
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There are some substantial misunderstandings on the nature of the Gilad Shalit exchange deal. I should stress that the list of those Palestinian prisoners being given in exchange for him has not yet been released. But note the following:
–The number 1000 is impressive but most will be chosen by Israel, meaning they will be prisoners with the lightest sentences an crimes, in other words, people who would have been released anyway during the next year or two.
–Israel rejected Hamas’s demand to release those being called “arch-terrorists” who were major organizers of attacks or responsible for a larger loss of life.
–Of the most serious terrorist prisoners only a bit over 96 will be released into the West Bank and 14 to east Jerusalem where they could cause direct trouble for Israel The rest will be sent to the Gaza Strip or deported altogether. Those with lighter sentences who live in the West Bank would have been sent there anyway when their sentences were finished.
–Hamas did a politically clever thing by demanding that half of the named prisoners be non-Hamas people. The goal is to make Hamas more popular among Fatah supporters and on the West Bank. ...