The center-left government of former prime minister Ehud Olmert decided against releasing hundreds of Hamas prisoners to bring home kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, but a similar deal is expected to pass easily in the more right-wing government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
A survey of the ministers in Netanyahu's cabinet found that while most are still careful not to express an opinion before they know who would be included in an exchange, many right-wing ministers have unexpectedly hinted that they had already decided to vote in favor.
"We must do everything possible to ensure that Gilad Schalit returns home healthy and in good shape," Shas's chairman, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, said on Sunday during a visit of President Shimon Peres to the succa of Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Israel Beiteinu's leader, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, similarly hinted that he and his party's ministers would vote in favor of the deal that is in the works, in statements he made at Thursday's cabinet meeting and in an interview with Channel 1 on Friday night.
Diaspora Affairs and Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein, who is considered the most right-wing Likud minister, also hinted that he could vote in favor of a deal on Sunday, despite many reservations about it.
"We have to finish this story, and in practical terms, I don't see a way out except for a deal," Edelstein said. "If the deal is something that myself and others can live with, I'll support it. But it's difficult. I won't be opening champagne."
Edelstein noted that unlike the last two prisoner exchanges, it is clear that Schalit is alive. He also said that removing him from the Gaza Strip would make it easier for the IDF to attack targets there.
The inclusion of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine's Ahmad Sa'adat, who ordered the murder of tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi in 2001, would make it harder for Edelstein to support the deal, but he declined to say whether it would constitute a red line for him.
Habayit Hayehudi's leader, Science Minister Daniel Herschkowitz, said he was "torn" over how to vote. He denied appraisals that his right-wing constituency was overwhelmingly against an exchange and noted that there were also differing opinions among top religious Zionist rabbis, past and present.
"It's a very difficult question, and an awful dilemma," Herschkowitz said. "I first want to see the deal, and I will struggle to make a decision. I will consult with rabbis and many other people first and then make a decision that would take Jewish law into account, but would not be based solely on Jewish law."
The seven ministers of the inner security cabinet are also expected to vote in favor, even though none except Yishai and Lieberman currently hints so publicly. The seven ministers have taken part in key decisions in drafting the deal, so they would have a harder time explaining a vote against it.
Individual ministers who might vote against the swap include Vice Premier Silvan Shalom and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, both from the Likud, who expressed reservations about last week's exchange of 20 female security prisoners for a video of Schalit. National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau might also oppose a deal even if the rest of Israel Beiteinu's ministers follow Lieberman's lead and vote in favor.
The Mattot Arim organization has begun an effort to lobby ministers and coalition MKs against the release of hundreds of murderers from jail in return for Schalit.
Sources close to Netanyahu said the deal for the tape passed by a wide margin in the security cabinet and they expect a deal for Schalit to be no different. They said that negotiator Hagai Hadas would brief ministers individually ahead of the vote to explain the proposal, which they believe will bring it further support.
"The prime minister is strong politically right now," a Netanyahu associate said. "He will make the right decision, and right decisions tend to obtain a wide majority."
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