Gilad Schalit should be released in any "feasible and appropriate way, but not at any price," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Thursday, a day after the Hamas leadership in Syria decided to suspend negotiations for the release of the abducted IDF soldier until after the Muslim feast of Id al-Adha.
"We are currently in the middle of the effortsâ€¦ Hamas is discussing the proposal, we are having discussions. One must hope that a deal will ensue, but I can't say if it actually will happen or not, and if so, when," he told Israel Radio.
Barak refused to say whether he was "optimistic" on the chances of a deal bringing Schalit back to Israel, as such fluctuating and speculative emotions have no real value in this instance.
"What matters is that we have people on it, they understand the framework, they understand the goals, and are working earnestly to promote them," Barak said.
The defense minister proceeded to explain how he might give his voice to a deal in which Schalit would be exchanged for hundreds of Hamas terrorists, while at the same time objecting to negotiating with kidnappers. Regulated principles for conduct in such instances have only recently begun to be consolidated, he said, based on the recommendations of a committee of experts.
"Israel is on a slippery slope, the slide must be stopped, but not at the expense of a person who is already in Hamas captivity," he told the radio station. "A year ago I appointed a commissionâ€¦ to recommend principles and processes regarding abductees and prisoners of warâ€¦ incidentally, they are not the same," he said of the two categories, and elaborated.
"With prisoners of war, the rule is - all of our prisoners in return for all of the enemy's, even if we have 3,000 and they have 3. With abductees, since it is very easy to kidnap, it can turn into a method to extort the State of Israel, and we are being led down this slippery slopeâ€¦ other [Western] countries don't negotiate with abductors, and the number of kidnappings is dropping," Barak pointed out.
"But as for Schalit, my position that is you don't change a 20-year process while you have a soldier in captivity."
He went on to explain why the aforementioned reasoning should not apply to the IDF soldier held in Hamas captivity for over three years.
"A system of principles, rules and procedures for deciding in this kind of cases should be set, and not have the weight of it on the prime minister, who is facing heavy public pressure."
"When a military operation is possible, one will be executed," the former chief of staff said. "Otherwise, there will be negotiations. But those must be according to principles, rules and procedures that have been determined in public discourse, and not while you have a civilian or soldier in captivity," Barak reiterated.