Noam Schalit: We'll home go and wait for a miracle
Captive's father says family to leave protest tent on 1,000th day of Gilad's captivity on Saturday.
By TOVAH LAZAROFF
Only a miracle can save his son Gilad, Noam Schalit said on Wednesday. He announced plans to end the "Save Me" campaign this Saturday, the heart of which has been a protest tent outside the prime minister's residence in which Noam and his wife, Aviva, have spent the past 11 days .
"All that is left for us to do is to wait for a miracle," Noam said as he sat on a folding chair in the tent under a large white banner that read: "Gilad is still alive!"
He spoke a day after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that the latest round of indirect talks with Hamas for the release of Gilad had failed, and that Hamas's demands for a prisoner swap were too extreme.
In the cabinet meeting that preceded Olmert's speech, security officials said the campaign, as well as the statements made by ministers to the effect they would pay "any price" for the return of Schalit, had caused Hamas to harden its position.
It was a statement that was soundly rejected on Tuesday and Wednesday by both Noam and the head of his campaign, Hezi Mashita.
"It's unfair and unfeeling and rude" to accuse this family of causing harm to their son, said Mashita.
Before the campaign was launched, the government had 987 days in which to bring him home, Mashita said. The Schalit family had been easy to deal with, and some would say naÃ¯ve, he added.
The campaign by the family and their supporters for Gilad's release was a legitimate battle to save a life, he said, but it was also about the values of Israeli society.
"It is a permissible campaign in a democracy, and it is good that this is so, " he said.
Noam said he and Aviva traveled to Jerusalem 11 days ago from their home in Mitzpe Hila in the Upper Galilee to remind Olmert "that the window of opportunity" for him to free Gilad before leaving office was closing.
"We had hoped that Olmert would make use of his final days as the head of the government to return Gilad," Noam said.
Gilad was kidnapped on Olmert's watch, and it was his duty to find a way to free him, he said.
"To our sorrow, that window of opportunity has closed. On [Saturday], the 1,000th day that Gilad is in captivity, we are leaving the tent and going home to Mitzpe Hila, disappointed and pained.
"We want to thank all the thousands who came here to support us and all those who supported us from afar," Noam said.
Supporters plan to continue to man the tent, which will remain where it now stands.
He ducked a question from a reporter who wanted to know if he understand why Olmert refused to fully meet Hamas's demands now that he knew who some of the prisoners Hamas wanted released were and what crimes they had committed.
"It is not our task to deal with the subject of the prisoners," said Noam, who added that he was not dictating to Olmert how Gilad's freedom should be secured, he was simply insisting he find a way to do so.
"The prime minister had enough time to check all the possibilities, and if it wasn't going to be through a prisoner release, they needed to find other ways," Noam said.
In spite of his pessimistic statements, he said he still maintained some hope that a breakthrough would occur before Olmert left office, but added that he believed it was unlikely.
The thrust of the "Save Me" campaign has been the belief that it would be easier for Olmert to conclude a prisoner swap than it would be for his probable replacement, Likud party leader Binyamin Netanyahu.
"Even Hamas understands that they should close a deal now," Noam said.
After a new government was in place, the family and the campaign would decide on their next move in the battle for Gilad.
While he had heard from Netanyahu, they had not discussed a deal with Hamas, Noam said.
Even as the Campaign to Free Gilad defended its activities, the criticism of it made in Tuesday's cabinet meeting sparked a public debate.
Among those who believed it caused harm was journalist Eitan Haber, who was director of the Prime Minister's Bureau under Yitzhak Rabin.
"In past instances we saw that protests had a negative influence on the negotiations," Haber said.
Sufian Abu-Zaida, a former Palestinian Authority minister for prisoner affairs, said he did not believe the media campaign had anything to do with the failure to reach a deal.
The latest round of efforts failed for the simple reason that Israel did not meet Hamas's demands to release it's full list of prisoners, he said.
It was very important for Hamas that these prisoners be released, he added.
The other snag, he said, was Israel's insistence that some 130 of the prisoners be deported.
"Hamas was ready to accept the deportation of a small number of prisoners, 10 or 20, but not 130."
He was puzzled by the expectation that the negotiations would succeed without a decision by Israel to meet Hamas's demands.
"What is the surprise here?" Abu-Zaida asked.
"Why was there the impression that both sides were very close to making a deal and that suddenly everything collapsed?"
Hamas has consistently made the same demands, he said. Olmert claimed Hamas had raised its demands, but has given no examples.
"I do not know how Hamas became more extremist," Abu-Zaida said.
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