PM against Hamas 'no visitation' bill

Netanyahu worried denying prisoners rights could have impact on Schalit talks, harm Israel's image.

schalit effigy gaza protest tent 248 88 (photo credit: )
schalit effigy gaza protest tent 248 88
(photo credit: )
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is working behind the scenes against a bill that would prevent Hamas prisoners from receiving visitors until kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit comes home, Likud sources said Thursday. The private member's bill, sponsored by Likud MK Danny Danon, is set to be voted on in the Ministerial Legislation Committee on Sunday. Although it appears to have a clear majority among the 19 ministers on the committee, Netanyahu has been pressuring Danon to withdraw the bill and Likud ministers to vote against it. Netanyahu's office said he opposes the bill pending the results of a committee headed by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman that is setting new rules for handling prisoners in a more organized way, in coordination with the police, Prisons Service and the State Prosecutor's Office. "The prime minister is studying the results of the committee of experts, which has not yet completed its work, and the government's position will only be decided when it does," an official response from the Prime Minister's Office said. But Likud sources said Netanyahu opposes the bill primarily because it could complicate negotiations on Schalit's fate and harm Israel's image abroad. Other ministers oppose the bill because they are concerned it could cause rioting among Hamas prisoners and would not pass the test of the High Court of Justice. In order to make the bill comply with international law, Danon included clauses guaranteeing Hamas prisoners visits from the Red Cross and their lawyers, though Schalit has never been given such basic rights. "This bill should have passed a long time ago," Danon said. "Every day that Hamas prisoners get family visits while Gilad is still in captivity is a disgrace for Israel. We aren't in conflict with Sweden, so we have to use weapons terrorist organizations understand. I hope the government decides to support the bill, which could expedite Gilad Schalit's release. There's a majority in favor and I hope the ministers vote according to their conscience." Danon said since introducing the bill he has received letters from Jewish inmates complaining that Hamas prisoners get special treatment, such as more meat in their meals, unlimited vegetables, the right to cook their own food and exemptions from wearing uniforms. Diaspora Affairs and Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein rejected opposing the bill because it could hurt Israel's image and allow the country's adversaries to claim we are stooping to the level of Schalit's captors. He said that when he was a Prisoner of Zion in Russia for three years, he was only allowed family visits twice a year. "We need a very long staircase to descend to the level of Hamas," Edelstein said. "To the best of my knowledge we are not discussing with Hamas how many visits Gilad Schalit gets a week, but allowing him to get out alive."