The Jewish people's strong feeling of interconnectedness and belief in the sacredness of life push us to do everything possible to free Gilad Schalit, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said Wednesday, after a meeting with Aviva and Noam Schalit, parents of the captive IDF soldier.
But Israel must not allow Palestinian terrorists to take advantage of this, added Yishai, according to his spokesman, Ro'i Lachmanovitz.
The Schalits met with Yishai as part of an ongoing effort to garner support for a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas.
After the meeting, Yishai said, "At this point, all discussion on the price and the details of the deal is causing serious damage. There will be a public debate, but it shouldn't be now."
The Schalits also met with Religious Services Minister Ya'acov Margi.
Margi said, "We are still deliberating whether or not to release Gilad, and we have complete confidence in the prime minister, the head of the Israel Security Agency and the IDF chief of General Staff, that together we will make the right decision."
Margi told the Schalits that they did not have to apologize for fighting to set their son free and added that he was impressed with their courage and noble bearing throughout the crisis.
Shas has been particularly vocal in its support in principle for the prisoner swap.
Yishai said in March 2008 that he would be willing to negotiate with Hamas to secure the release and even was willing to travel to the Gaza Strip to hold negotiations.
Lachmanovitch said that Yishai was still willing to negotiate with Hamas and that Shas's chairman was not pursuing negotiations due to Hamas's lack of interest.
However, it is Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual mentor of Shas, and not Yishai, who will make the final decision on whether or not Shas will support releasing hundreds of Palestinian terrorists in exchange for Schalit.
Yosef, considered one of the most important and innovative living halachic authorities, has a long history of supporting prisoner swaps.
The most recent case was his support in June 2008 for the release of five Lebanese terrorists and the remains of 199 Lebanese fighters in exchange for the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.
The five terrorists included Samir Kuntar, who was convicted of killing an Israeli police officer, shooting dead a 28-year-old man and killing his four-year-old daughter by bludgeoning her in the head in 1979.
That was the first time Yosef had backed the release of terrorists in exchange for bodies.
Yosef first expressed his support in principle for prisoner swaps over three decades ago, when he served as Sephardi chief rabbi.
During the 1976 Entebbe hostage crisis, he ruled that Jewish law permitted freeing Palestinian terrorists, including those guilty of murder, to secure the release of the kidnapped Israelis and Jews. A successful IDF commando operation ended up preempting a hostage swap.
Rabbi David Yosef, the Shas mentor's son, said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post over a year ago that his father had also supported the May 1985 Jibril deal in which Israel released 1,150 Palestinian terrorists, including Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, in exchange for three Israeli POWs.
The son explained that his father's rulings on prison releases was based on the premise that the danger to the wider Israeli public from freed terrorists was uncertain. Releasing Palestinian terrorists might or might not lead to the deaths of additional Israelis. Any number of obstacles could impede the potential terrorist.
In contrast, Schalit or other captured Israelis were in constant, direct danger, so that everything must be done to release him immediately, said David Yosef.