Post poll: Security cabinet firm against freeing prisoners

All nine members of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's diplomatic-security cabinet oppose releasing Palestinian prisoners as part of a deal that could bring about the release of IDF Cpl. Shalit, according to a Jerusalem Post poll on Sunday. There have been reports that ministers were upset that they were not told in advance about the arrests of Hamas politicians on Thursday and that there was opposition to Olmert's decision not to bring ground forces into northern Gaza. But Olmert has, for the most part, managed to prevent any public opposition to his policies by ministers in the security cabinet. According to senior diplomatic officials, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Justice Minister Haim Ramon are "on the same page as Olmert" regarding what Israel should, and should not, be doing to free Shalit and stop the Kassam rockets on Sderot. One of the ministers closest to Olmert, Livni has only articulated support for the government's policies, which she is responsible for explaining abroad. Vice Premier Shimon Peres has also not publicly advised Olmert either to take stronger or weaker action against the Palestinians. Although in recent days, following his "Kassam, Shmassam" remark last month about the rocket attacks on Sderot, Peres has limited his Israeli media appearances, he has appeared a great deal in the foreign media, where he has completely backed the government. In a series of interviews Sunday, including with CNN and Sky News, Peres said, "Hamas is responsible for what is happening in Gaza." Even Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's efforts to bring about a solution through diplomatic measure were rejected by Hamas, he said. Peres repeated the government line that Syrian President Bashar Assad needs to expel the terrorist apparatus working from its soil, and rejected Assad's claim that he knew nothing about Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal's activities. "We were forced to act in order to carefully defend ourselves," Peres said Sunday. "We did not cause any civilian casualties. We are taking steps to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza." The only minister who was reported to be wavering on the issue of releasing Palestinian prisoners was Pensioners Minister Rafi Eitan. When asked by Army Radio about whether he could see himself voting for such a measure last week, Eitan said "everything is possible in the Middle East." But Eitan's spokeswoman later said that he had been misinterpreted and he was firmly against releasing Palestinian prisoners. Eitan, who only entered politics some four months ago, still declines to place himself on the traditional Right-Left political map. Science and Technology Minister Ophir Paz-Pines, who considers himself the most "pragmatic" minister in the security cabinet, said he has made a point of raising in security cabinet meetings questions about how and when the IDF will leave the Gaza Strip. Paz-Pines said he has publicly defended Olmert's policies because he considers them "moderate." He said he believed that former security men like Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter were purposely remaining silent in the media because they wanted to see more hard-line policies. But Dichter's spokesman said his boss's public silence should not be interpreted as criticism. He said that Dichter says what needs to be said in closed circles and has made a point of not speaking publicly on matters not directly connected to his ministry. Behind closed doors, Dichter has been quoted as calling for the Kassam launching town of Beit Hanun to be "wiped off the map" and insisting that before the IDF leaves the Gaza Strip everything necessary be done to ensure that Palestinian terrorists will not be able to fire upon Sderot. Mofaz, who Olmert moved from the Defense Ministry to the Transportation Ministry, has not publicly weighed in at all on the events in Gaza. But this, according to government officials, doesn't mean that he is not sharing his opinions with the prime minister and defense minister - he is, the officials said, but only in private. According to these officials, "in private forums, Mofaz is supporting the defense establishment and their decisions." Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai's spokesman said that Yishai was in the "restrained and realistic camp" in the government, and not on the Right or Left. On the one hand, he opposes West Bank realignment and he called Sunday for the creation of a security zone in the northern Gaza Strip controlled exclusively by the IDF. But on the other hand, he opposed bringing massive ground forces into the Strip, because he thought it would endanger Shalit