Senior Likud officials close to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called opposition leader Tzipi Livni a coward on Sunday for failing to voice her opposition to the Gilad Schalit deal until days after it was completed.

At the request of Gilad Schalit’s father, Noam, Livni kept silent about the deal until Sunday morning when she slammed it in interviews. Livni said the exchange legitimized Hamas while undermining Israel’s strategic deterrence.

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“The people of Israel forced the government to free Gilad Schalit,” Livni told Yediot Aharonot. “What matters is that Israel today is weaker and Hamas much stronger, and no one can dispute that.”

Livni called upon the government to release prisoners from Fatah in the second stage of the deal in order to strengthen Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

She explained her silence until now by saying that she did not want to turn Schalit’s fate into a political issue.

But the Likud slammed Livni for not speaking until now, and being abroad when Schalit returned home.

“She apparently forgot that she was a senior minister when Schalit was taken captive – and she also forgot that she failed to bring him home,” a Likud spokeswoman said. “Livni doesn’t know what responsibility is and she is acting out of political considerations that even members of her own party don’t accept.

Livni woke up too late, as usual, and it’s a pity that she ended her silence.”

Kadima MKs issued similar criticism of Livni in closed conversations.

Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich said she was surprised by Livni expressing opposition after the fact and accused her of keeping silent to avoid losing support.

“True leadership is tested in real time, even on matters that are not popular,” Yacimovich said.

The Knesset is expected to debate the Schalit deal when it convenes on Monday morning for a Kadima-initiated meeting titled “The Netanyahu government’s failure in diplomatic, economic and social matters,” in which the opposition is expected to criticize the deal to release Schalit from captivity.

The plenum discussion, to occur one week before the Knesset’s summer recess ends, will also address the following topics: “The Netanyahu government is doing everything to dissolve the social protests,” and “The Trajtenberg Report ignores the crisis in the Arab population.”

Kadima has gathered signatures for numerous special Knesset discussions during the current recess, the previous one taking place on September 19.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin repeated his opinion during a meeting with President Shimon Peres on Sunday that the Knesset should not be involved in government policies on captive soldiers.

“The Shamgar Committee report must be a government decision, and not anchored in the Knesset’s binding legislation,” Rivlin said, in reference to the government- appointed committee on hostage-release negotiations.

“The Knesset does not need to limit the government from acting in its areas of authority,” the Knesset Speaker explained.

“The government must be allowed to make its own decisions on future deals, and be allowed to adopt the report as a guide.”

“Any limit on the government’s decisions is a grave violation of Israeli democracy and a blow to checks and balances,” said Rivlin.

“The government must be free to make decisions on foreign policy and security, and the Knesset’s job is to supervise. We cannot pass declarative laws that will be subject to change depending on the circumstances.”

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