'PM had to OK Yishai talks with Carter'

Gov't source says Olmert wanted to "leave no stone unturned" in efforts to secure Schalit's release.

yishai looks up 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
yishai looks up 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
It is extremely unlikely that Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai could have met with former US president Jimmy Carter about kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit without Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's tacit approval, a senior government source said Monday, following the second Yishai-Carter meeting on the matter in a week. The source said Olmert's office had squashed Defense Minister Ehud Barak's original plans to meet Carter, and would have easily been able to do the same to Yishai's meeting had he wanted. Instead, the official said, Olmert had an interest in the meeting taking place to "leave no stone unturned" in efforts to secure Schalit's release. Barak had at first agreed to meet with Carter, the source said, but then changed his mind after being asked to do so by the Prime Minister's Office. The official noted that two weeks ago, Yishai had come out and said he would be willing to meet Hamas head Khaled Mashaal himself to secure Schalit's release - a statement that in retrospect seems to have been preparing the ground for his meeting with Carter. The source said it was inconceivable that Olmert, Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni would all snub Carter, and that Yishai - on his own - would then meet him. The official said that there was likely input from American Jewish organizations against either Olmert, Barak or Livni meeting Carter so as not to give him legitimacy in the US. Carter's book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, has since its release in 2006 been a key weapon in the arsenal of anti-Israeli elements in the US trying to delegitimize Israel and blacken its name, with the major US Jewish organizations leading the fight against them and Carter. The source said that of all the cabinet members, Yishai was the most logical to meet with Carter regarding Schalit, since he could say that he was trying to carry out the religious imperative of redeeming captives ("pidyon shvuyim"). When asked whether Yishai's meeting with Carter had been done with Olmert's approval, or whether Yishai was Olmert's messenger, one senior official in the Prime Minister's Office responded by saying, "Yishai is expressing his own opinion. He is not expressing the opinion of the government or the prime minister." Yishai's associates, meanwhile, vigorously denied that Olmert had intervened in his meetings with Carter. They said Olmert had not used him to send messages to Hamas or to Syrian President Bashar Assad, and that the prime minister had neither encouraged nor discouraged Yishai from meeting Carter. Yishai has said for months that he was ready to meet Hamas, so he had no problem agreeing to meet with Carter, a source close to him said. "He thinks that it's better to confront people with abhorrent views rather than avoid them." MKs on the Right bashed Yishai and Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who met with Carter last week. National Union leader Benny Elon accused Yishai of advancing his own agenda, independent of the government, for his own political gain. "What Yishai is doing is wicked, stupid and populist," Elon said. "By breaking a united front from the prime minister on down, [which] rightly boycotted Carter when it became clear he was going to meet with Hamas, Yishai strengthened terror. The problem is not Carter. It's that Carter is a mediator between Hamas and Shas, creating the ugliest coalition I have ever seen." Elon said Yishai's meetings with Carter would not accomplish anything other than to "play with the emotions" of the families of the kidnapped soldiers. He said Yishai's behavior was also a problem religiously, because he allowed Hamas to "play the prime minister [Olmert] against the deputy prime minister [Yishai]" and thereby raise the asking price to bring home Schalit. National Union MK Effi Eitam said Yishai's meetings with Carter were intended to distract the public and make it look like he was accomplishing something by keeping Shas in Olmert's coalition. "It's all intended to justify the shame Yishai feels for remaining in a government that should have gone home a long time ago," Eitam said. "Shas's voters will remember this and take their revenge in the ballot box."