PM to relax release criteria for Schalit

Decision may mean release of prisoners with "blood on their hands;" Shin Bet head opposed to move.

olmert face 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert face 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has decided to relax the criteria regarding prisoners to be included in an exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit and push forward with a swap, despite vociferous objections by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), The Jerusalem Post has learned. Olmert met on the matter Sunday with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Vice Premier Haim Ramon, Internal Security Minister and former Shin Bet head Avi Dichter, Minister without Portfolio and former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon, Environment Minister and former deputy Shin Bet head Gideon Ezra, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann. Olmert's decision means he has accepted the recommendations of Ofer Dekel, his point man on negotiations over the missing soldiers, to relax the criteria regarding who could be included in an exchange. Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin has argued against relaxing the criteria and engaging in a massive exchange of hard-core security prisoners, saying this could lead to a spike in terrorism and harm Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's standing among Palestinians, while boosting support for Hamas. Israel's position up until now has been that it would not release prisoners with "blood on their hands," a broad definition that would exclude from any list precisely those prisoners the Palestinians most wanted to see released. The decision came a day after senior officials in Olmert's office told the Post that the prime minister had not yet reached a decision on the matter. Olmert's office has not yet made a formal announcement about the issue. Ramon, Dichter, Ayalon and Ezra are believed to be in favor of a more flexible definition of "blood on the hands," while Livni and Friedmann are thought to be opposed. The deal will reportedly include the exchange of 450 Palestinian prisoners, whose names were drawn up over the last six weeks by an interministerial committee headed by Ramon. It is, however, not expected to be carried out for a number of weeks. Senior government officials said the final deal would have to be approved by either the full cabinet, the security cabinet, or a special interministerial committee appointed to approve the exchange. Last week's Winograd Committee report on the Second Lebanon War strongly urged that Israel not do "crazy deals" to secure the release of captured soldiers, since this only boosted terrorists' motivation to capture more.