Noam Schalit: Gilad's freedom not on horizon

Captured soldier's father pessimistic after leaving his first meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

noam Schalit cap 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
noam Schalit cap 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
His son Gilad is unlikely to be freed from Gaza any time soon, Noam Schalit told reporters after he left his first meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, just one day before Pessah - the festival of freedom. This year, as in the past two, the Schalit family has no plans to celebrate the Seder, which marks Jewish emancipation from slavery. After an intense campaign last month to push then prime minister Ehud Olmert to find a way to release their son before leaving office, Noam and Aviva Schalit found themselves sitting with Netanyahu on Tuesday. They spoke with him for an hour in his Jerusalem office. When they left, Noam said, "We have no reason to be optimistic. Gilad's freedom does not appear to be on the horizon. I hope that things will begin to move in a more significant fashion." He added that he could not give any more details about the conversation with Netanyahu. To date, Netanyahu has not stated whether he would meet Hamas's demand to release 450 security prisoners, including those accused of killing Israelis, in exchange for Schalit. The Prime Minister's Office had no comment on the conversation or on the reports that Netanyahu had met with special negotiator Ofer Dekel, who spent time in Cairo last month trying to work out a deal for the soldier with the help of the Egyptians. For the second year in a row, Schalit's friends plan to hold a Seder on the sidewalk outside the Prime Minister's Residence. Last year, the Seder marked the absence of reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev as well. But in July, Olmert was able to strike a deal with Hizbullah for the return of Goldwasser's and Regev's bodies. The two men were killed while on patrol along the northern border in July 2006. Schalit was taken by Hamas while serving on the Gaza border in June 2005. This year, the Seder is being held to protest the government's failure to obtain his release, and to remind the public that even as they are celebrating the holiday of freedom, Schalit remains in captivity. "We want to ask Netanyahu to return Gilad as soon as possible and to give him the right to celebrate the holiday with his family," said Guy Eliasaf, one of Schalit's friends from the army. The Haggada that they plan to read at the Seder has been modified to highlight the captive soldier's plight, Eliasaf said. For example, he explained, instead of the classic questions like "Why is this night different than all other nights?" their Haggada reads, "How is this government different than the last?" A separate campaign of friends has asked people to place an empty seat at their Seder tables to mark Schalit's absence. Herb Keinon contributed to this report.