Israel divided over possible Shalit deal

Efforts to bring about the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit ran into further difficulties this week, when it emerged that the Israeli government is divided on the price to pay.

Fellow members of corporal Shalit’s tank platoon, who were discharged on Tuesday at the end of three years’ service, marched to the office of Defence Minister Ehud Barak to demand that he does more to ensure their comrade, captured two years ago, is freed.

A public rally held afterwards was poorly attended, which may be connected with the fatigue and collective trauma caused by the prisoner swap with Hizbollah last week, in which Israel received the bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser in exchange for 199 bodies, five militants and a terrorist.

Two views seem prevalent: that Israel should not give in to any more lopsided exchanges, and that the government should be more flexible over Cpl Shalit because he is known to be alive.

Most cabinet ministers, including normally hardline Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, believe that Israel should acquiesce to Hamas demands. “Israel should give everything to secure Shalit’s release,” said Mr Mofaz.

The ministers’ frankness has led to charges from Israel’s intelligence establishment that their views are undermining negotiations. “Ofer Dekel [the government coordinator] is holding talks, trying to reduce Hamas’s crazy demands, and Hamas leaders hear the ministers say we should give more,” an intelligence source told the JC. “So why should they make things easier?”

For now, Egyptian-brokered talks are at a standstill. Israel refuses to release the long list of prisoners, including murderers, presented by Hamas as a condition to Shalit’s release.

    Last updated: 4:19pm, July 6 2010