Gilad Schalit expected back in Israel on Tuesday

PM’s envoy will go to Cairo to work out final details; Israel to publish list of prisoners to be freed; Clinton praises deal as "courageous."

Gilad Schalit in uniform 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Gilad Schalit in uniform 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Israel will on Saturday night publish the names of the first batch of prisoners to be released in exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, making his return home possible as early as Tuesday, officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said on Thursday.
David Meidan, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s pointman on the Schalit affair, is expected to travel to Cairo on Saturday night to work out the final details of the deal approved by the cabinet earlier this week.
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Under the agreement, Israel will immediately release 450 male prisoners on a list of names drawn up with Hamas, and another 27 female prisoners, and then get Schalit in return. Israel will then free another 550 prisoners of its own choosing in two months.
Once the list of the 477 prisoners to immediately be released is published, the public will have 48 hours to petition the decision to the High Court of Justice. If all legal obstacles are cleared, the deal can go through.
Among the issues Meidan is expected to work out in Cairo are the mechanics of how the release will take place, as well as the final list of countries expected to take in some 40 prisoners who will be deported overseas.
Of the prisoners, 110 – half of them Hamas members – will return to their homes in the West Bank and Jerusalem. These, according to government officials, are the prisoners considered the lowest security risks. Fifty-five of them will be under supervision and have to check in periodically with authorities.
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The highest security threats – some 40 prisoners – are to be deported overseas. The names of the countries that will take them in have not yet been announced, although there is speculation that Turkey may be one of them.
President Shimon Peres on Tuesday said he was “pleasantly surprised by the Turkish government’s stand” on the Schalit deal, but did not elaborate, raising speculation that Turkey either expressed a willingness to take in some of the Palestinian prisoners, helped convince Hamas that it should accept the deal, or both.
Another 165 prisoners from the West Bank will be exiled to the Gaza Strip.
When Israel publishes the list of the prisoners, it will list their names, the crimes they committed, and when they were sentenced. The list is not expected to specify which prisoners will be deported.
Netanyahu on Thursday evening spoke by phone with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt’s ruling military council, and thanked him for the central role his country played in putting together the deal.
“Your assistance warmed the hearts of every Israel citizen,” the prime minister said, according to a statement put out by his office.
Netanyahu also spoke by phone with US Secretary of Clinton Hillary Clinton, who according to his office praised the decision as a courageous one.
Government officials played down concern that the prisoner swap would strengthen Hamas over the long run, and would make it more difficult for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to renew talks with Israel because of a concern of seeming too “moderate” in comparison with Hamas.
With the Schalit deal nearing completion, the government is expected in the near future to discuss recommendations of a special committee set up by Defense Minister Ehud Barak in July 2008, when Ehud Olmert was prime minister, to determine guidelines for conducting negotiations for the release of captive Israelis.
The government has held up publicizing these guidelines until after a deal for Schalit was reached. The committee was headed by former Supreme Court justice Meir Shamgar.
In Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, Barak argued that Israel now needed to draw up a new policy regarding future swaps, making clear both to the enemy and the Israeli public what price Israel would, and would not, be willing to pay in the future.
Government officials said that while a number of ministers supported this idea in the cabinet, they also voiced doubt about whether it could ever be implemented.