By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
Hours after MK Daniel Ben-Simon (Labor) said Saturday that the deal to release captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit would come to fruition in two to three weeks, the Labor MK issued a statement dismissing Internet reports that claimed his timetable came from a conversation with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
"Netanyahu ... did and will do what nobody in the Labor Party would dare to do," said Ben-Simon during a speech at a Beersheba "Shabbatarbut" event.
"The Schalit deal was stuck for three years because Olmert was unwilling to pay the price. Now, Netanyahu came along, and the deal will be concluded in another two or three weeks."
Ben-Simon also said that the deal would include the release of convicted Fatah terrorist Marwan Barghouti.
Immediately after the speech, Internet media reported that the MK said that Netanyahu himself presented the timetable for the deal to Ben-Simon. Other Web sites reported that Ben-Simon had "heard Netanyahu" talking about the timetable.
In fact, during his address, Ben-Simon did not provide any source for his information.
"I did not speak to the prime minister at all," the Labor MK told Army Radio on Saturday evening. "I was only making assessments based on conversations with government sources."
Less than an hour after the initial reports of Ben-Simon's comments surfaced, the Prime Minister's Office rushed to deny any connection to the Labor MK's statements.
"The statements attributed to Netanyahu were never said by him, not to a political figure nor to anyone else," said the office in a terse response.
Ben-Simon shared the stage with Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Israel Beiteinu), who spoke before Ben-Simon, telling the audience that "it is not appropriate to say anything regarding the Schalit deal."
Aharonovitch said he hoped Barghouti would not be included in any future deal, calling him "a lowly murderer who deserves to rot in jail to the end of his days."
Ben-Simon said that "Aharonovitch is correct in his statement that Barghouti is a despicable murderer who must stay in jail, but he is on the list" of prisoners to be released as part of the Schalit deal.
"It could be that Israel will sit opposite Barghouti in another two years," Ben-Simon continued, "the chair launders both the past and the future. The argument is whether to present him to Ramallah, or to send him to a cooling-off period overseas."
Last week, the High Court of Justice ruled that the proceedings of the Schalit deal would remain secret and that the names of terrorists to be released would only be revealed 48 hours before a deal takes place.
Ben-Simon, a former journalist, also said that a peace deal with Syria had been already drafted, and was simply awaiting the signatures of the respective sides.
Ben-Simon's comments evoked the ire of MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), who said shortly after the end of Shabbat that the MK, who is seen to represent the left wing of the Labor Party, offers an accurate portrait of Netanyahu's policies.
"It has been clear for a while that anyone who voted for Netanyahu received a government led by Ben-Simon," said Ben-Ari. "When you want to know what Netanyahu is going to do, you need to listen to Ben-Simon."
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