We all want him to return. We all share 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 one’s voice heard. These too are 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 kidnapped citizens. 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 hostages at Ben-Gurion Airport.
In cases such as these, and in other cases, like the attempt to rescue the kidnapped soldier, Nachshon Wachsman of blessed memory, there was operational feasibility – and the State of Israel did not hesitate to risk its finest to rescue the hostages and kidnapped.
In other circumstances, the State of Israel decided on several occasions to release terrorists and murderers in exchange for releasing Israelis.
The most famous case 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 with their own hands.
Moreover, those released in the Jibril deal made up the hard core of the leadership of the first intifada, during which hundreds of Israelis lost their lives in suicide and terror attacks.
One could say: "That happened over 25 years ago, times have changed", but there were more instances. For example, 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 six months 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 were wounded in these terror attacks.
Others released in the Tannenbaum deal led to the murder of:
– Two young women and three men in the Stage nightclub in Tel Aviv in February 2005;
– Two sixteen year-old girls, a soldier 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 have 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 lives:
– By encouraging further kidnappings;
– By additional murders by those released;
– By creating a core of leadership to carry out terrorist acts against Israeli citizens in the future.
It is no coincidence that the United States, Britain and other countries absolutely refuse to negotiate with terrorists over releasing hostages.
Because of the complexity of this decision and the overall national responsibility resting on the shoulders of every Prime Minister in Israel, I refused to criticize the Olmert government on the issue of Gilad Shalit when I was leader of the opposition.
I also instructed the members of my party not to apply any pressure regarding 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 needed 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 acted accordingly.
Upon becoming Prime Minister over a year ago, I took the following four steps:
1. I appointed Hagai Hadas to serve as 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 obtained an important video in which Gilad Shalit is shown talking and walking, and in possession of his cognitive and physical functions.
My goal was to clarify Gilad’s condition and also to affix firmly in the world’s consciousness, 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 for a deal that would 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 a general draft in which 450 terrorists would be released to the 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 the auspices of the Egyptian government.
I had the option of rejecting the deal outright, something that would have placed a huge question mark over the issue of Gilad’s release in the foreseeable future, or I could try 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.
Let it be clear: this is a difficult proposal. It includes the release of 450 terrorists, whose names, by the way, were all supplied by Hamas. They provided a larger list and we chose from among them to reach 450 names.
Overall, the German mediator’s proposal that we decided to accept includes the release of 1,000 terrorists. This is the 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 Judea and Samaria from 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 because from they can reach all our cities. They can go anywhere, just not Judea and Samaria. Through the existing breaches, passageways and gaps in the fence, they can reach Raanana, Petach Tikva, Kfar Saba, Netanya, Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Everywhere.
This is exactly the reason that Hamas insists that they be able to return to Judea and Samaria. I am not prepared to repeat a policy that did not stand the test of time and led to the murder of dozens of Israelis.
2. The second principle is to prevent the release of mass murderers, because their release from jail will vastly strengthen the Hamas leadership and inspire new waves of terror.
These are 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 mediator’s proposal and during the past 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 him to return. I am working to bring about his release in various ways, both openly and discretely. But I also bear overall 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 breach Israel’s principles regarding the release of murderers.
As Prime Minister, I am obligated to consider all these factors. With a rash move or a lack of consideration – we are likely to repeat the mistakes of the past and introduce an even greater danger.
The call to pay any price is a natural cry from the heart of any father, mother, grandfather, sister or brother. As a father, brother and son, I understand this cry from the bottom of my heart. But I and every Prime Minister in Israel must also consider 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 make every effort, both in and out of the public eye, in order to speedily return our precious Gilad home. We will do so while resolutely preserving the security of the citizens of Israel.
G-d willing, we will continue to have the composure and strength of spirit to make the right decisions for the entire people of Israel.