MKs, ministers split over Schalit prisoner swap deal

Lieberman leaning towards opposition; Yishai optimistic agreement will receive majority vote at cabinet; Shalom says he'll back deal.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
October 11, 2011 23:34
3 minute read.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman [file]

Foreign Minsiter Avigdor Lieberman 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Uriel Sinai)

 
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Ministers and MKs were split on a prisoner exchange deal to free captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit on Tuesday, after Israel and Hamas announced that an agreement had been signed.

"We believe there will be a majority,” Shas chairman Eli Yishai said. “This is good news for all the people of Israel. It's important to the rabbi, who strongly supports it. He asked the ministers to fulfill the commandment to redeem captives by voting for the deal.”

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Vice premier Moshe Ya'alon met with Yosef the following day and reportedly warned him against the deal. But he told his associates on the way into Tuesday night's meeting that he was undecided.

The other vice premier, Silvan Shalom, denied reports that he had decided to oppose the deal, and after he heard all the details from security officials he said he would support the deal.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was leaning toward opposing the deal. He told his ministers that they could vote their conscience on the matter. National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau was expected to oppose the deal.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who vigorously opposed past prisoner exchanges, was expected to support the Schalit deal, as was the most right-wing Likud minister, Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein.

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"As a former prisoner of Zion, he can't vote against such a deal,” a source close to Edelstein said.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said on Tuesday night that in order to authorize the deal to release captive soldier Gilad Schalit, he would call a meeting of the Knesset immediately after the first day of Succot, if necessary.

"The decision is difficult and complex, but on this topic, if need be, the Knesset will gather without delay ­ even during the holiday," Rivlin, who is currently at the European Parliament in Brussels, stated. "Freeing Gilad Schalit is a national concern of the first degree, which is important to everyone in Israel. The deep worry over Gilad's fate is found in all of us, and I hope and wish to see Gilad come home as soon as possible." But Channel 2 reported that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the cabinet he would not bring the deal to a vote in the Knesset despite his past promises to do so.

Knesset Land of Israel Caucus leader Ze'ev Elkin (Likud), who as coalition chairman, would have to draft a majority for the deal, spoke out against it.

"The Land of Israel caucus calls on government ministers to reject the agreement to surrender to Hamas," Elkin said. "Back away from the red lines that were crossed by the government, and do not allow terrorists to be released into Judea and Samaria." Elkin asked ministers to "see before you the many sure-to-be future victims of capitulating to terror and the wholesale release of murderous terrorists."

"This is your test, government ministers, and I expect you to show strength of character and reject a deal, which the prime minister himself has explained in the past is dangerous for Israel," the Likud MK concluded.

The National Union party called a press conference in which it warned against releasing murderers and accused Netanyahu of surrendering to Hamas.

"I hope Netanyahu will have the courage to look in the eyes of the future widows and orphans as a result of this deal and the families of more kidnapped soldiers,” the party said. “The Schalit deal will bring about a third Intifada and whoever votes for it will be responsible for the blood that will be spilled.”

Netanyahu also received strong backing for the Gilad Schalit deal Tuesday night from Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

The rabbi was one of the first Israelis briefed about the deal when Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited him on Sunday. Yosef hosted Schalit's father Noam in a meeting Tuesday night that was described as emotional.

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