Ashkenazi: Schalit never off the agenda

Earlier, Livni meets demonstrators in her home, says releasing kidnapped soldier may be impossible.

livni press 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
livni press 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. -Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said Friday "there is not a day where the subject of returning [kidnapped IDF soldier] Gilad Schalit goes off the agenda." Ashkenazi, speaking during a visit to Druse villages in honor of the Eid al-Adha, or Festival of the Sacrifice, made the comments after earlier in the day Foreign Minister, Kadima leader and prime ministerial hopeful Tzipi Livni said the state cannot return each and every captive soldier. On Friday morning, Livni met representatives of a group that was demonstrating for the release of Schalit outside her Tel Aviv home. It followed comments made the previous day by Livni at a Tel Aviv high school in which she hinted that Schalit might remain in the hands of Hamas in Gaza for some time to come. Livni reiterated her remarks to the demonstrators whom she invited into her home on Friday. "Today there is a sense that Gilad Schalit's release is a question of whether the government wants to bring him back or not," she was quoted as saying by her office. "If someone who enlists in the army is asking himself whether the government would want to release him or not - that is terrible in my eyes. "Releasing Gilad Schalit is not a matter of whether we want to or not. It is important for me to stress to every soldier and everyone who is enlisting in the army that we are still in a fight for Israel's existence, that the government is responsible for every IDF soldier and that every one of us wants and is acting so that every soldier will return home. However, the question is not whether we want it or not, but whether or not it is possible." Livni and the demonstrators' representatives agreed to continue to meet in the future. Nevertheless, speaking to Army Radio after the meeting, one of the demonstrators, Guy Elyasaf, expressed his disappointment with the foreign minister. "She did not retract her comments as we had asked her to, and it has given us a feeling that Israel does not take responsibly for a soldier that falls into captivity," he said. "Tzipi Livni gave us a lot of slogans in our conversation, but she didn't demonstrate any real moves that can be made, anything active. We remain with the same harsh feeling as before we went in to meet her." In an Israel Radio interview later on Friday, Livni reconfirmed her stance regarding Schalit. "There is something terrible happening here," she said. "I arrive at a high-school, meet with wonderful youths before their army service, and a student asks me how we expect them to enlist, while Gilad Schalit is still in captivity. That implies that the question of whether Schalit will return home is a question of whether we want to bring him back or not... I consider this terrible." "I will never negotiate his release in the media," Livni continued. "I consistently refused and continue to refuse to politicize the issue by saying that some want him back more than others... we all want him back...[but] we cannot bring every soldier home." Also during the interview, Livni referred to remarks made at the Tel Aviv school in which she signaled that she believed Israeli Arabs could best fulfill their nationalist goals by moving to a future Palestinian state. "The sole purpose of the peace process with the Palestinians is to safeguard the Israeli interest of sustaining Israel as a democratic and Jewish state. These values are intertwined and do not contradict one another." she said. "I am willing to give up parts of the land I believe we have historic rights to, so long that it sustains Israel's Jewish and democratic nature. Democratic means equal rights for all citizens, regardless of their religion or nationality. But [Arab] national demands or expressions must be found elsewhere." When asked whether the apparent toughening in her stance toward the Israeli-Arabs might have to do with the upcoming Kadima primaries and general elections, Livni replied that she had held the same positions her "entire political life." "I, unlike Netanyahu, do not determine my stances based on polls. I don't sway to the Left or Right," said the Kadima leader. "The Center I believe in has an ideology, and this is it. My positions have not budged since I entered politics, unlike Netanyahu who changes his opinions based on surveys." "The Center is not a vacant space between Left and Right, but my ideology," added Livni. Likud blasted Livni over the comments. "Over the past day the Kadima leader has shown all of Israel what she has been hiding for years: That she is an hysterical person who cannot function under pressure. She spews out astonishing malarkey, only because of her drop in the polls," said a party statement. "It is startling to think how Livni would respond in the case of a real event," it continued. Labor also slammed Livni, saying that she had proved "to anyone who still had doubt" that she was "siding with the extreme Right." "Her 'zig-zag' routine regarding realization of Israeli Arabs' identity and her miserable statements regarding Gilad Schalit clarify that Livni does not believe in clear stances," added the Labor's statement. Also Friday, some 150 demonstrators gathered outside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Jerusalem home calling on him to secure Schalit's release before the end of his time in office.