Israel and Hamas have reached a deal that will secure the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for 1,000 Palestinians currently held in Israeli prisons. The Cabinet of Prime Minister Netanyahu on Tuesday night approved the deal to end Shalit’s five-year-long ordeal in the Gaza Strip. Twenty-six ministers voted to approve the prisoner exchange deal signed with Hamas, with only three voting against the deal. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon and National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau voted against the deal. Gilad Shalit has reportedly been brought to from to Gaza to Egypt already.
The IDF soldier has been held by Hamas since being abducted on Israeli territory in a cross-border raid in June 2006. “The Jewish people is a special people, responsible for one another,” Netanyahu said at the opening of the Cabinet meeting. “Our sages teach that those who save one Jewish life, it is as if they have saved an entire world. Today, I am bringing a proposal for the saving of Gilad Shalit in order to bring him back, finally, after five years, to his home, to Israel.”
Netanyahu said that the deal, which has been in the works for weeks, was initiated in Cairo on Thursday of last week, and Tuesday received the final approval. Earlier, the prime minister had phoned Gilad’s parents Noam and Aviva Shalit, telling them: “Since taking office I have waited to make this call. A deal has been reached to bring Gilad home. I have a majority in the Cabinet. Gilad is coming home!”
The framework for this deal has been on the table for years, but was rejected as Israel demanded that Palestinian terrorists with blood on their hands be deported to Gaza or abroad, and Hamas demanded that all the names they submitted be on the list. In the end, both sides showed flexibility, with Israel agreeing to let hundreds, but not all, of the released terrorist remain in the West Bank, and Hamas dropped some of the names on its list.
The head of Israel’s security agency Shin Bet, Yoram Cohen, said that his people would be able to deal with those returning to the West Bank. His predecessor, Yuval Diskin, had been adamantly opposed to letting any convicted terrorists return to the West Bank. Cohen, as well as the heads of the Mossad and the IDF, all expressed support for the prisoner exchange deal at Tuesday’s emergency Cabinet meeting.
Around the world, statesmen and Jewish leaders hailed the news. World Jewish Congress Vice-President Charlotte Knobloch said in a statement: “For more than five long years, terrorists have held Gilad hostage. We are counting the 1935th day of his ordeal, and on every single day, the Jewish community world-wide prayed for the young man and his family,” the former head of the German Jewish community declared, but added: “I will only breath a sigh of relief when Gilad is finally in the arms of his mother.”