PM Netanyahu: "We all want Gilad to return. I want Gilad to return. I am working to bring about his return in various ways, both openly and discretely. But I also have to take into consideration the general national responsibility."
Four years have passed since Gilad Shalit was kidnapped and the people of Israel are united in their desire to see him return safe and sound to his family, to his home, to his country.
We all want his return. We all have a strong desire to see Gilad return to his parents, Aviva and Noam; to his grandfather, Tzvi; to his sister, Hadas; to his brother, Yoel.
Anyone who has met the members of the Shalit family cannot help but think to themselves: this could have been my son, my brother or my grandson. Therefore, the family’s reaction is natural, as is the desire to help them, to support them, to make your voice heard are also natural and understandable to all of us, including myself.
The State of Israel has always been prepared to pay a heavy price for the release of its hostages. I know this price firsthand. I lost my brother Yoni, of blessed memory, during the operation to free the hostages of the Air France airplane in Entebbe. I myself was wounded during the operation to free the Sabena airplane hostages at Ben-Gurion airport.
In circumstances such as these, and in other circumstances such as in the attempt to rescue the kidnapped soldier, Nachshon Wachsman of blessed memory, there was an operational possibility – and the State of Israel did not hesitate to endanger its finest sons to rescue its prisoners and hostages.
In other circumstances, the State of Israel decided on several occasions to release terrorists and murderers in exchange for releasing Israelis.
The most famous deal was the Jibril deal of 1985, in the framework of which 1,150 terrorists were released. Almost half of them returned to engage in terror and to murder dozens of Israelis at their own hands.
Moreover, those released in the Jibril deal constituted the solid nucleus of the leadership of the first intifada, during which hundreds of Israelis lost their lives in suicide and terror attacks.
We should be able to say: "It was over 25 years ago, times have changed", but there were more instances, for instance, the Tannenbaum deal in January 2004, in the framework of which 400 terrorists were released.
Here is what happened as a result of that deal:-
On January 27, 2004, Hamas activist Musaab Hashalmun was released as part of the Tannenbaum deal. On August 31, 2004, only half a year after his release, he was involved in a simultaneous terror attack on two buses in Beersheba. sixteen Israeli citizens were murdered and more than 100 wounded in these terror attacks.
Others released in the Tannenbaum deal led to the murder of:
– Two young girls and three men in the Stage nightclub in Tel Aviv in February 2005;
– Two sixteen year-old girls, a soldier in mandatory service and two women in the Sharon mall in Netanya in July 2005;
– And another woman who was murdered in a terror attack in Dimona in February 2008.
Overall those released in the Tannenbaum deal murdered 27 Israelis since their release in 2004. We can say this today with the benefit of hindsight.
Therefore, the decision to release terrorists is a difficult and complex one for any government. We are not only talking about saving lives but also about endangering many lives:
– By encouraging further kidnappings;
– By additional murders by those released;
– By creating a nucleus of terror leadership against Israeli citizens in the future.
It is no coincidence that the United States, Britain and other countries steadfastly refuse to negotiate with terrorists over releasing hostages.
As a result of the complexity of this decision and the general national responsibility resting on the shoulders of every Prime Minister in Israel, when I was leader of the opposition, I refused to criticize the Olmert government on the issue of Gilad Shalit.
I also instructed the members of my faction not to apply any pressure on this topic, and I must say that they behaved accordingly. I said that we were not allowed to turn the issue of Gilad Shalit into a political hatchet, and I personally adhered to this.
I said that public pressure and demands needs to be directed towards Hamas rather than towards the Israeli government. Towards this cruel, murderous terror organization that has not allowed the Red Cross to visit Gilad Shalit even once during his years of captivity. I said this and did this.
Upon becoming Prime Minister over a year ago, I took the four following steps:
1. I appointed Hagai Hadas to be the Government’s Special Representative on the matter of Gilad Shalit.
2. I agreed to include the German mediator in the negotiations, as he is a man of proven experience in conducting such negotiations.
3. We received an important video where Gilad Shalit is shown speaking, walking and being in possession of his physical and cognitive functions.
My aim was to clarify Gilad’s state and also to affix firmly in the international consciousness Hamas’ direct responsibility for his well-being and his release.
4. After arduous negotiations, I responded favorably to the German mediator’s proposal to return Gilad Shalit home while simultaneously preserving the security of the citizens of Israel.
Now I would like to explain what this deal does and does not include:
The previous government agreed to the general proposal to release 450 terrorists to Hamas. The deal was not completed because no agreement was reached about which names would be included. The previous government also agreed to release 550 security prisoners as a gesture to the Palestinian Authority under Egypt’s auspices.
I had the option of rejecting the entire deal, something that would have placed a huge question mark on the issue of Gilad being released in the foreseeable future, or to attempt to complete it in such a way that would not harm the security of our citizens. I chose to proceed in this manner and to accept the German mediator’s new proposal.
It should be clear that this is a difficult proposal. It includes the release of 450 terrorists, whose names, by the way, were all supplied by Hamas, which provided a larger list and we chose names from among them to reach 450.
The German mediator’s proposal that we decided to accept requires the release of 1,000 terrorists. This is a price that I am prepared to pay in order to bring Gilad home.
I agreed to the deal and it can be carried out immediately. However, there are prices that I am not prepared to pay that are not included in the proposed deal. I stand firm on two basic principles:
1. The first principle is that dangerous terrorists will not return to the areas of Judea and Samaria where they will be able to continue harming Israeli citizens. Terrorists that the security forces define as dangerous, such as several of those released in the Tannenbaum deal, can be released to Gaza, Tunis or anywhere else – but they will not be able to return to Judea or Samaria from where they can reach all our cities. They can go anywhere, not just Judea and Samaria. Through the breaks, the passageways and the gaps in the fence, they can reach Raanana, Petach Tikva, Kfar Saba, Netanya, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and everywhere.
This is exactly the reason that Hamas insists on being able to return to Judea and Samaria. I am not prepared to return to policies that with the test of time led to the murder of dozens of Israelis.
2. The second principle is to prevent the release of mass murderers, because upon leaving jail they will vastly strengthen the Hamas leadership and greatly inspire new waves of terror.
We are referring to arch-murderers who planned and carried out the most shocking and horrendous terror attacks in which an extremely large number of innocent Israeli citizens were murdered.
With a heavy heart, while adhering to these two principles, I agreed to the German mediator’s proposal. Hamas has still not responded to the German mediator’s proposal and during the last few days several of its spokesmen have even increased their demands. I think that Hamas is making a mistake but the ball is in their court.
We all want Gilad to return. I want Gilad to return. I am working to bring about his return in various ways, both openly and discretely. But I also have to take into consideration the general national responsibility.
I look into the pained eyes of the Shalit family, and I ache with you – the Shalit family. I also look into the pained eyes of hundreds of family members of terror victims, and I feel their pain. In the same breath, I am also thinking about those families whose loved ones will be murdered in further terror attacks if we break Israel’s principles regarding the release of murderers.
As Prime Minister, I am obligated to consider all these factors. An act of haste or lack of consideration are likely to return us to the mistakes of the past and be very dangerous for us.
The call to pay any price is a natural cry from the heart of any father, mother, grandfather, sister or brother. As a brother and son, I understand this cry from the bottom of my heart. But before me and before every Prime Minister in Israel, must also be the security of all the citizens of the state.
The State of Israel is prepared to pay a heavy price for the release of Gilad Shalit but is unable to say "at any price". This is the truth and I state it here.
We will continue to exert every effort, from up close and far away, both in and out of the public eye, in order to quickly return Gilad who is beloved to us all. We will do this while steadfastly preserving the security of the citizens of Israel.
G-d willing, we will continue to have the restraint and strength of spirit to make the right decisions for the entire people of Israel.