Channel 1: PM will agree to Schalit prisoner swap deal

Aviva Schalit Todays v

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will agree to the proposed deal being discussed by his inner cabinet for the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, Channel 1 reported on Monday night. However, as the Monday evening meeting began, Netanyahu's office issued a statement saying, "The prime minister will continue to protect Israel's security and the lives of its citizens as the most important factor" in a decision over the soldier, a possible hint that he was actually leaning against approval of the deal. A Palestinian close to the negotiations said the German mediator carrying a proposal approved by Hamas for the release of some 1,000 prisoners has set a Wednesday deadline for Israeli action. The Palestinian, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said there would be no further negotiations. Meanwhile, as the seven-minister inner cabinet, said to be deeply divided over the prisoner swap proposal, was debating the merits of a deal at the Prime Minister's Office, protests for and against the deal continued outside. Schalit's mother Aviva told reporters that the decision would be made "in the next few hours ... this will not go on much longer." Rather than criticizing ministers apparently against the deal, Aviva said, "It isn't a question of right or wrong." Channel 10, meanwhile, reported that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak had been arguing over the importance of giving Hamas a final, definitive answer on the proposed deal. According to the report, Barak feels that failing to issue a final Israeli response now will weaken Israel's position and lead Hamas to make more demands. Netanyahu reportedly believes that it will be possible to continue the negotiations from the same point they left off after the German mediator's Christmas holiday. Barak, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Intelligence Services Minister Dan Meridor reportedly supported the deal, while Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin expressed grave reservations over the possibility that terrorists "with blood on their hands" would be released back into Palestinian territory. Previous reports claimed that Netanyahu himself had not yet made up his mind on the deal, though he was said to have opposed the release of Palestinians directly involved in murder to the West Bank, possibly preferring that these prisoners be expelled from both Israeli and Palestinian territory. Also Monday night, Fox News reported that Hagai Hadas, the special envoy in the negotiations for Schalit's release, was on the verge of resigning his post. It is feared Hadas will resign if Israel rejects the latest version of the swap deal, according to "a senior source close to the negotiations" quoted by Fox. "Time is of the essence. Every future deal will lead to worse results than the present one," the source reportedly said. The Prime Minister's Office denied the report. In Cairo, Omar Suleiman was reportedly pressing Israel to agree to the prisoner swap, with Channel 2 quoting the Egyptian intelligence chief as saying, "There will not be another deal." Earlier Monday, Gilad's parents, Noam and Aviva, met with Netanyahu and Hadas. "The decision-making process has not come to its conclusion yet, but is expected to end soon," said Noam Schalit in a short statement upon exiting the meeting. "The decision will be made today, or tomorrow morning," added Schalit. "There are no dramas here and nothing new to report, besides that the prime minister spoke with us and updated us on what he could," Schalit continued. "I am not optimistic yet, but am not pessimistic… We came primarily to hear." In a protest earlier Monday, members of the Campaign to Free Gilad Schalit held life-size cardboard cutouts in the image of the abducted soldier, who has been held in Hamas captivity in Gaza for three-and-a-half years. Before meeting with Netanyahu, Gilad's father told reporters that "It won't help to sit at home. We'll wait until the end of the deliberations, and hear the outcome." "We need to decide already, and so does Hamas. The time has come to end the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza," Schalit added. If the seven members of the inner forum approve the deal, it would most likely be brought to the government for approval. Meanwhile, President Shimon Peres called on the public and its leaders to enable the inner to cabinet make its decision with as little distractions as possible. "No-one, including me, should be allowed to interfere in the ministerial committee's deliberations on the possible prisoner exchange for Gilad Schalit," he said on Monday. "And there should be no leaks from the debate," he added. Peres was responding to journalists' questions about how he would react to the situation. The president, who has been in frequent contact with the Schalit family, said that he would not discuss the issue with the media, beyond stressing the importance of leaving the ultimate decision to the government. Greer Fay Cashman, Herb Keinon and AP contributed to this report