After in camera consultation with state officials from the military censor, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish, said on Sunday that no agreement has been reached with Hamas on a prisoner release deal in exchange for captive soldier Gilad Schalit.
"We were told that there is no deal yet. The negotiations are complicated. There are wide gaps between the sides and it may be that no deal will take place," said Beinish.
Beinish made the announcement during a hearing of a petition filed by three bereaved fathers who lost their children in a suicide bombing in Haifa together with Almagor, the Terror Victims Association, who demanded that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the government and the army censor publicize the proposed prisoner list.
Beinish's statement counters a statement released by the state on Sunday, in response to the same petition, in which it stated it was going to release 980 prisoners in future deals.
The court has yet to release an official ruling, but because of the secrecy surrounding the negotiations, it will not force the state to make public a list of the prisoners to be released. Such a list will only be released near the last minute.
"A list of the names of prisoners set to be released, along with a description of their crimes, will be published 48 hours before the release takes place," said Beinish. She added that family members of terror victims were free to contact the pardons department of the Justice ministry and present their objections to a specific prisoner's release.
Beinish's answer was exactly the response the parent's were dreading. In his arguments, Attorney Naftali Werzberger, who represents the bereaved parents, said that 48 hours was too short a time period in which to organize any substantial opposition.
"By the time we get the list and examine it and try to appeal it, the murderers will be on the buses and we will be facing a n established fact," said Werzberger. "Sitting beside me are three fathers who lost those who were mot precious to them in a horrific act of terrorism. Their children's killers may very well be on the list. These people, whose world collapsed around them, have the right to be a part of a procedure that involves the killers of their loved ones. How can you pardon the terrorists without the victims having a right to appeal?"
Yossi Mendellevich, who lost his son Yuval in 2003, said he and the other fathers do not recognize the government's right to hide information form the public using security reasons as an excuse. "Israeli courts gave my son's murderers 17 life sentences for the brutal killing of 17 people. How will Israel's security be harmed if it's known whether they are part of the deal?" said Mendellevich. "The state that failed in protecting our children in the first place is betraying us again when it releases their murderers."
In its turn, the state, represented by the State Attorney reiterated its arguments from it's response to the petition, saying no deal has yet been reached and that discussion on its details was premature.
In response to the petitioner's demands that the state cease from using the military censor as a tool to block public debate, the state attorney explained that he would be able to provide the court with reasons for the necessity for censorship, but that he could only do so behind closed doors.
To the court he said that public debate was alive and well in Israel and that the media was flooded with information and opinions on all aspects of the deal. He also said that the proposed deal was different in nature from any other prisoner release, because in this case the state was operating as if it was in an ongoing terrorist attack, with the ever-growing price tag just part of the attack that started three years ago with Schalit's abduction.
Following the hearing, the petitioners expressed their disappointment with the court's decision. "The state of Israel has done what it does best. It closed the doors and operated in darkness, without telling anyone. I think they have brutally ignored alternative options," said Yossi Zur. "I don't know what was said behind closed doors, but I'm sure that the state has a list of 400 or more prisoners and the rest are in negotiations. Despite the fact that we came here and demanded to know about the fate of our son's killers, the state chose to ignore our requests, leaving us without public debate before the deal and without an opportunity to appeal after it goes through."
In related news, the state on Monday also responded to a petition filed to the High Court of Justice by National Union Party chairman MK Yaakov Katz, requesting the immediate publication of the conclusions of the Shamgar Committee, which is charged with setting government principles for negotiations for the release of hostages and missing persons.
"The findings of the Shamgar Committee cannot be published since the committee has yet to complete its work," the state said in response to Katz's petition.
The state also provided the court with a letter written by former chief justice Meir Shamgar, who headed the special committee, in which he said the committee was instructed to ascribe its findings to the future alone, and was not meant to express its opinion on the issue of Schalit.
The committee has held 35 meetings and has heard 66 witnesses so far, but has not yet completed its work, Shamgar wrote in the letter.