Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu immediately shot back on Thursday to accusations that nothing was being done to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, issuing a statement saying that he was responsible for the security of all the country’s citizens, and that past experience shows numerous Israelis were killed by terrorists released in previous prisoner exchanges.
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The statement followed an open letter Schalit’s grandfather, Zvi, wrote to the prime minister, accusing Netanyahu of cynically meeting with Gilad’s parents, Aviva and Noam, before Pessah to create the impression of activity, when in fact nothing really was happening.
“Every time there is heightened media interest to freeing my grandson Gilad, you invite my son Noam and my daughter-in-law Aviva for a meeting without content, and which in the end causes emotional pain,” Schalit wrote.
“You sit them down in your living room, with your wife present as if it is a friendly meeting. But in fact, Mr. Netanyahu, you are with cruel cynicism using my son and daughter-in-law to present a picture to the public of activity, when nothing is being done to save my grandson.”
According to the statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu is in constant contact with the Schalit family, his door is always open to them, and he and his family identify and feel, as does the rest of the nation, for the Schalit family.
“The efforts to bring Gilad Schalit back home safe and sound continue all the time, under the direction and command” of Netanyahu, the statement read, adding that as a result of these efforts a video of Schalit was secured in October 2009.
“A year has passed since Israel presented Hamas, through the German negotiator, its last offer during the negotiations, but Hamas did not respond, something that shows that there is no intention on the other side to reach a successful conclusion to the negotiations that will bring Gilad back home,” the statement added.
The statement also said Israel continued to chase after those responsible for Schalit’s kidnapping, and “as we have seen recently, succeeds to reach them everywhere they hide,” an apparent reference to the killing two weeks ago of senior Hamas member Tayser Abu Snima, who Israel said was “directly and physically” involved in the Schalit kidnapping nearly five years ago.
He was killed in IDF actions in response to the firing of an anti-tank missile on a Negev school bus earlier this month.
Zvi Schalit, in his open letter, accused Netanyahu of torpedoing at the last minute a deal to bring his grandson back last year.
“Your refusal then, and your refusal today, to respond positively to the request of the security service heads in the past to free Gilad for the stated price is akin to a death sentence for Gilad. My grandson was a young, healthy man when he was captured at the age of 19. If he dies in Gaza it will be a long and painful death.”
The grandfather also asked Netanyahu whether he could imagine a situation where he would refuse to pay the price to free his own son, and instead would let him die.
To that question, the Prime Minister’s Office answered indirectly, saying that alongside the “great obligation” of redeeming captives and returning Schalit home, Netanyahu is also responsible “for the safety and security of all of Israel citizens. The experience of the past teaches that dozens of Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks carried out by terrorists released in previous deals, such as the Jibril exchange and the Tannenbaum exchange.”
For that reason, the statement said, Netanyahu is firm in his position that any deal must not endanger Israeli citizens, and that dangerous terrorists will not be released to areas in Judea and Samaria, from which they could carry out attacks in Israeli territory.
Last June the government released figures indicating that some 45 percent of released terrorists return to terrorism.
The number is even higher among Hamas members, of whom 63% return to terrorism, and the Islamic Jihad, for which the number rises to 67%.
This recidivism, according to these figures, was seen clearly when
Israel released 400 terrorists to gain the return of Elhanan Tannenbaum
and the bodies of three IDF soldiers in 2004. Fifty-two percent of those
released have returned to terrorism and are responsible for killing 27
Israelis in a number of different attacks.
According to government figures, 42% of the 1,150 prisoners released for
three IDF soldiers in the Jibril prisoner exchange in 1985 returned to
terrorism and, according to Israeli assessments, many were leaders of
the second intifada.
Netanyahu received rare backing from a Kadima MK on Thursday in a
statement released by Yisrael Hasson, a former member of Israel’s
negotiating team in talks aimed at bringing Schalit home.
“I understand the feelings of the family but the responsibility on the shoulders of the prime minister is huge,” Hasson said.
“Unfortunately, Israel created an absurd situation whereby the captors
have no interest in releasing him, because holding him captive
guarantees that they will be left alive.
We must make clear to Hamas that they cannot hold Israel hostage and
that continuing to hold him could result in Israel taking action in
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.