Cabinet to be presented with proposal to release Schalit

Earlier, PM indicates he will consult Netanyahu on details of deal; says new coalition should be established "in light of challenges facing Israel."

livni olmert cabinet 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
livni olmert cabinet 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The security cabinet, comprised of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak will bring to cabinet approval a proposal to bring about a permanent cease-fire with Hamas which would also include the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit. The proposal will be presented to the government already this week. Apart from the release of Schalit, the proposal will also include other issues pertaining to the cease-fire, such as arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip and border crossings. Cabinet ministers were unanimous on Sunday that the release of Schalit should be addressed before any progress on crossings or arms smuggling can be made. It was still unclear, however, whether the names of Palestinian prisoners expected to be released in exchange for Schalit will be mentioned in the cabinet meeting. During Sunday's cabinet meeting, Olmert indicated that he intended to consult Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu before making any decision on a deal to secure the release of Schalit. Olmert explained that he would brief Netanyahu on the issue because he was likely to become the next prime minister. "We need to consider the new post-election reality," Olmert said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. "From now on, this government will act as required by the new political reality. That's the natural thing necessitated by the elections." Olmert expressed hope that a new government would be formed as soon as possible "in light of the challenges Israel is facing." The security cabinet meeting came after a weekend of speculation over an imminent truce deal with Hamas and a prisoner swap agreement for Schalit, which was widely reported by Israeli media taking its cues from Arab news sources Saturday. Prior to Sunday's cabinet meeting, ministers stressed that there should be no truce agreement that doesn't secure Schalit's release. "I believe that this is a chance to bring Schalit home; we must not make any [truce] agreement without including Schalit," Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit said prior to the cabinet meeting. "I am not opposed to the [deal] being done in two stages, so long as Gilad is released from Hamas hands in the first phase and passed to the Egyptians," he continued, adding that he was "willing to pay the price to bring him home." Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) said that "we must not make progress on the cease-fire without Gilad Schalit," adding, "We will need to pay a heavy price for his return." Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon said that there was no reason "to even open a quarter of a crossing" if Schalit is not returned. "Anyone who doesn't understand the easy way, will understand the hard way," said Simhon, referring to Hamas. Vice Premier Haim Ramon also said that no deal with Hamas should be implemented unless Schalit is returned. "We can't have a situation in which the crossings are open for humanitarian purposes and we allow the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip while Gilad Schalit continues to sit in captivity in a basement or a deep bunker," Ramon told Army Radio on Sunday morning. On Saturday, the Prime Minister's Office issued a statement pouring cold water on reports that a truce deal was in the cards, and making it clear for the first time that Israel will not accept a truce that does not include the return of Schalit. "It should be emphasized that top priorities for Israel are the security of the residents of the South and the release of Gilad Schalit," the statement said.