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. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon and National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau voted against the deal.
Timeline: Five years in Hamas
'1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad
Analysis: Schalit and the Arab Spring
"The Jewish people is a
special people, responsible for one another," Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu said at the opening of the cabinet meeting. "Our sages teach
that those who save one Jewish life, it's as if they have saved an
entire world. Today I am bringing a proposal for the saving of Gilad
Schalit in order to bring him back, finally, after five years, to his
home, to Israel."
The cabinet vote brought close to conclusion a saga that tortured the Schalit family -
and the country - for more than five years, and which made the
kidnapped soldier, now 25, a household name in large parts of the world.
return for Schalit, Israel will release 1,027 prisoners, some 400 of
them prisoners serving long sentences for some of the worst terrorist
atrocities in the country's history.
Netanyahu: Deal was in works for weeks
said that the deal, which has been in the works for weeks, was initiated
in Cairo on Thursday of last week, and Tuesday received the final
The framework for this deal has been on the table for
years, but was rejected as Israel demanded that the terrorists with
blood on their hands be deported to Gaza or abroad, and Hamas demanded
that all the names they submitted be on the list.
In the final
analysis, both sides showed flexibility, with Israel agreeing to let
hundreds, but not all, of the released terrorist remain in the West
Bank, and Hamas dropped some of the names on its list.
(Israel Security Agency) head Yoram Cohen said that the Shin Bet would be able
to deal with those returning to the West bank. His predecessor, Yuval Diskin, was adamantly opposed to letting the
prisoners return to the West Bank.
Cohen, as well as
the heads of the Mossad and the IDF all expressed support for the
prisoner exchange deal at the cabinet meeting.
The Shin Bet chief said that while the deal to free Schalit would be
difficult for Israel, there is no better alternative in the near future
to bring the captured soldier home. "There is no question that for many
families who lost loved ones to terror this is a difficult deal. If we
want to bring Schalit home though, this is the way," he said.
The government of Israel has succeeded after more than five years,
and 1,935 hard days,
and after 1,935 long nights,
to return Gilad home.
To return Gilad to us back home.
We are now waiting the 7 to 10 days until Gilad returns,
with a lot of worry.
Gilad is not yet here,
and I suggest that everyone remains calm,
don't get excited until we see him here, at home and in his parents' arms.
Netanyahu told the
cabinet that the negotiations were restarted in recent weeks through
Egyptian mediation. "There exists a built-in tension between the desire
to bring a kidnapped soldier or citizen home, and the need to preserve
the security of Israeli citizens," he said, adding that the current
agreement expressed the right balance between those considerations.
is a difficult decision," he said. "My heart is with the families of
the terror victims. I understand their suffering, and their distress,
because I am one of them. But leadership is judged in moments like this
by the ability to make difficult, but correct, decisions."
said that with all the changes taking place in the region, "I don't
know if in the near future we would be able to reach a better agreement
or an agreement at all. It might be that the window of opportunity would
have been closed, and we would not have been able to return him at
all."Egypt instrumental in negotiating deal
The prime minister thanked the Egyptian government as well
as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German mediator who played an
important role in securing the deal.
Schalit negotiator David
Meidan on Tuesday provided some details of efforts to reach a deal with
Hamas to release Schalit, saying Egypt was "very helpful" in
facilitating the proposed exchange. He referred to the deal as a
"There were six rounds of talks...we did this over
several months in complete secrecy and we managed to hold them under
the radar," Meidan said at the cabinet meeting.
"In the last round, the Shin Bet came in and we initialed a deal without names last week," Meidan satated. "
added that the final marathon round of talks "took 24 hours
without sleep," beginning Monday at 9 a.m. and ending Tuesday at 8 a.m.
big breakthrough in the talks came in July this year. In July, Hamas
came to Israel with a document showing a new level of seriousness.
of the main factors for Hamas in accepting the deal was the fact that
the group had lost its headquarters in Damascus amid unrest in Syria,
according to Meidan. In mediating the deal, Egypt apparently used the
loss as leverage to put pressure on Hamas to accept the deal.
said he invited Schalit's father, Noam, to his home in the morning to
convey the news, and also spoke by phone to Schalit's mother and
grandfather. "I said to them that I am fulfilling my promise and I am
returning to them their son and grandson. I am happy to have been able
to fulfill the goal of redeeming captives, and if all goes well, Gilad
will return to Israel in the coming days to his family and people."