‘Schalit bill’ easily passes first reading

Future of legislation, aimed at putting pressure on Hamas, still uncertain.

knesset building 248 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
knesset building 248 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
Over a year after they were first submitted, the Knesset passed in preliminary reading Wednesday a series of bills designed to toughen conditions for Hamas members in Israeli jails until captive IDF soldier Gilad Schalit is released. But despite the overwhelming majority by which the bills were passed, their legislative future remains uncertain at best.
The vote on the bill crossed parliamentary lines, with opposition and coalition members’ support leading to a 56-10 victory. Nevertheless, the bills’ proponents were unresolved as to in which committee the bills should be advanced. MKs suggested the Law Committee, the Interior Committee and the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, with the bills finally being referred to the House Committee for a decision on the matter.
The bills – colloquially and collectively known as the Gilad Schalit Bill – originated in the previous administration with a bill sponsored by MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima). With the formation of the Likud government, two separate bills – one filed by MK Danny Danon (Likud) and the second by MK Yariv Levin (Likud) and MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) – were also filed, but repeatedly failed to win the support of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.
A deal was finally reached Sunday by which the government would support the bills on the condition that they be advanced to further readings only “in concert and consultation” with the government, and with the Internal Security and Justice Ministries.
One of the bills’ sponsors, MK Arye Eldad (National Union) warned earlier in the day that he feared that the government did not intend to see the bills through to legislation.
“The government hopes that the passage of this bill will be enough pressure, without bringing it forward to second and third readings,” Eldad said at a press conference hours before the vote.
Later speaking from the podium, Eldad said that he “congratulates the government on deciding to support the law that attempts to prevent family visits for Hamas prisoners as long as Gilad Schalit does not enjoy such visits. It is, however, a pity that the government opposed this law a half-year ago, because time is being wasted and for Schalit each day is an eternity.”
“One can only hope that the prime minister and his advisers will not add difficulties and roadblocks to the continuation of legislation,” he added.
Danon emphasized that the bill would help to place pressure on Hamas leaders to release the captive soldier. If the legislation were to pass, Hamas prisoners could be denied access to television, radio, educational programs, special dining arrangements and family visits. Instead, the bill would restrict visits, permitting only prisoners’ attorneys as required by law, as well as visits by the International Red Cross once every three months.
“Gilad Schalit’s family has not seen him for 1431 days. In the same1431 days, Hamas prisoners are celebrating nonstop in jail. The familyof the terrorist of Hassan Salameh, the commander of the military wingof Hamas in Judea and Samaria, sits in an Israeli jail and his familyhas not seen him for hours – since their last visit, yesterday,” saidDanon addressing the Knesset.
“This bill shows clearly to everyone the absurdity that on one sidemurderers are sitting in luxury conditions and on the other there is asoldier in subhuman conditions,” he added.
Arab MKs, however, blasted the legislation, with MK Ibrahim Sarsour(Balad) calling it a “blatant violation of international law” andsaying it would harm chances for a deal for Schalit’s release.
Hamas itself warned earlier this week that the bill would would causeit to raise its demands for a possible exchange deal, not back downfrom any of its current demands. 
AP contributed to this report.