MK Katz: Make government release Shamgar criteria for prisoner swaps

MK Katz Make government

National Union Party chairman MK Yaakov Katz petitioned the High Court of Justice on Sunday requesting the immediate publication of the conclusions of the Shamgar Committee, which is charged with setting government principles for negotiations for the release of hostages and missing persons. The petition, filed by attorney Naftali Wertzberger, argues that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak failed to publicize the committee's findings, even though it has concluded its deliberations, and in doing so are withholding vital information from the public in light of the prisoner swap being proposed for kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit. Barak appointed the Shamgar Committee in July 2008, when he was defense minister under the Olmert government. The committee, comprising former Supreme Court justice Meir Shamgar, Prof. Asa Kasher and retired general Amos Yaron, was instructed to establish a set of principles under which future negotiations for prisoner exchanges should be held. According to Yediot Aharonot, the committee concluded its deliberations in July, but has yet to present its recommendations to the cabinet. In a phone interview with The Jerusalem Post from his hotel room in New York, Katz said that the rationale for the petition was the future security of the State of Israel. "A state needs to have a strategy and needs to know the likely outcomes of actions it takes. The United States, as a rule, doesn't negotiate with terrorists, and other western countries, more or less, follow the same principles. Only in Israel everything is in the air and anybody who comes along, does as he pleases," said Katz. Katz criticized Netanyahu for being weak under pressure and capitulating to the public campaign organized by Schalit's family. "Netanyahu is crossing red lines that even Ehud Olmert backed away from," said Katz. When asked if he had met with Schalit's family, Katz said that he had met Noam Schalit on two occasions and had explained to him that despite the love and concern for his son, there ought to be limits on what the state can sacrifice in exchange for an individual soldier - and that there are other ways to release him. "Even this government claims it has red lines it won't cross, so in any case it's not a matter of returning him at any cost," said Katz. The petition argues that upon conclusion of deliberations the committee should be required to publicize its recommendations for solving the moral dilemmas that prisoner releases raise. Barak referred to the work of the Shamgar Committee several days ago, saying that the criteria for releasing terrorists must be toughened and that if they weren't, Israel would find itself sliding down a slippery slope when it comes to releasing prisoners. At the same time, he said that the committee's findings would only by considered after the conclusion of a deal for Schalit. Katz's petition states that even if the committee's findings would not bind the government in the Schalit deal, the recommendations could still provide guidelines and should not be ignored. In a letter sent to Netanyahu a day before filing the petition, Katz asked: "If the committee's conclusions are that the release of murderers may lead to strategic and deterrent chaos, why deny public debate from the people who will pay the price - the residents of the State of Israel? "What moral argument will the government present to the families of the next kidnapping victim, when it decides to uphold the committee's conclusions, if it released murderers in exchange for Gilad Schalit, knowing the committee's conclusions? What moral argument will the government stand behind when families mourn their sons and citizens lose their limbs because of the release of murderers in the current deal, knowing in advance the possible outcomes and the conclusions of the committee?" asked Katz. The National Union has come out sharply against a prisoner exchange that will authorize the release of prisoners convicted of murder. Katz's petition states that he decided to file it after he received no response to his letter from either Netanyahu or Barak. Katz's petition follows a similar request filed last week on behalf of three men who lost their children in a suicide bombing in Haifa in 2003. Like Katz, the fathers requested the publication of the Shamgar Committee's findings, as well as the list of prisoners set to be released in a Schalit deal.