'Details of Schalit deal to stay secret'

Details of Schalit deal

The High Court of Justice on Tuesday rejected the petition of three bereaved fathers to have the criteria for kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit's prisoner release deal made public. The three-judge panel, headed by Supreme Court President Justice Dorit Beinish, said the information was deemed too sensitive to share with the public. The judges reached their decision following an in-camera meeting, in which a state official from the military censor explained the security risks that could unfold if the information was released. "The process has special sensitivities due to the need to release Schalit without risking his life on one hand and efforts to make sure that the deal's 'price tag' is not too high and won't substantially harm national security on the other," said Beinish in her ruling. In response to the petitioner's concern that the state was misusing the authority of the military censor by forbidding the media from publishing details of the negotiations, the judges said that there would be no censorship stopping the public from holding open debate or blocking opinions that oppose the deal. "There is not and there won't be any censorship on the statements of bereaved families or on anyone who wishes to publish details on the prisoners who may be released," read the ruling. Naftali Wertzberger, the lawyer who represented the three fathers in the petition, told Army Radio that the ruling disappointed him. "The Supreme Court gave preference to what they heard behind closed doors over democratic principles that demand transparency even on such a painful and sensitive issue. I find it difficult to believe that the prime minister will enable public debate after the decision is made. Once the execution mechanism is given the go ahead the prisoners will be on the buses and all that will remain for us [to do] is to cry out." In related news, Schalit's parents Noam and Aviv met Tuesday with with Likud ministers Gideon Sa'ar and Limor Livnat as well as with Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Israel Beiteinu). They are set to meet with Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) on Wednesday. Meanwhile, a Hamas source told Israel Radio on Tuesday that negotiations to release Schalit had "reached the point of no return." The source said it was up to Israel and Hamas to make hard decisions, adding that disagreements over ten or 15 Palestinian prisoners were slowing down the negotiations. Also Tuesday, Al-Hayat quoted Israeli sources as saying that 17 prisoners from east Jerusalem will be freed in a potential deal to release Schalit. Ten of the 17 will be deported out of Israel, according to the Arabic-language newspaper. The report also quoted Hamas sources, who said that negotiations to secure a deal were stuck on fifty prisoners that Israel was refusing to release. Among the fifty, according to Al-Hayat, were Hamas commander Jamal Abu al-Hija and Hassan Salama. Hija was a Hamas commander in Jenin, and is sentenced to nine life terms for his role in a number of terrorist attacks, including a 2000 car bombing near a Hadera mall that killed two people. Salama is responsible for the murder of dozens of Israelis in terrorist attacks, including two bus bombings in Jerusalem in 1996 in which 44 people were killed. He was given 38 life sentences in prison in 1998. In other Arab media, Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported Tuesday that Hamas had decided to postpone the signing of a Palestinian unity agreement with Fatah until after a deal to free Schalit was signed. Tovah Lazaroff and Jpost.com staff contributed to this report.