1,400 Terrorists for Gilad Shalit?

Reports of an imminent prisoner-exchange deal are once again in the air. This time, they speak of up to 1,400 Arab terrorist prisoners going free in three stages, in return for Gilad Shalit.

Hillel Fendel , | updated: 10:02 AM

Egypt's Minister of Intelligence, Omar Suleimon, is scheduled to arrive in Israel within the next two days to finalize the details of the agreement. Egypt figures heavily in the deal: the abducted soldier Gilad Shalit is scheduled to be transferred to that country, and from there to Israel, as part of the deal.

The agreement under consideration stipulates the following three steps: An unknown number of Palestinian terrorists currently incarcerated in Israel for various crimes will be set free, immediately after which Corp. Shalit is to be transferred to Egypt. A second group of terrorists will then be freed, followed by Shalit's return to Israel. In the third stage, Israel will free a final group of terrorists.

Just yesterday, speaking at a memorial to David Ben-Gurion in Sde Boker, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert implied that terrorists would be freed only after the kidnapped soldier is returned home. "I hereby declare," he said, "that when Gilad Shalit is released and returned to his family, safe and sound, the Government of Israel will be willing to release many Palestinian prisoners – including ones who were sentenced to lengthy prison terms – in order to increase the trust between us and prove that our hand is truly extended in genuine peace."

That the agreement is reportedly close to fruition is due to a phone call between Olmert and Abu Mazen, an understanding between Abu Mazen and Hamas leader Ismail Haniye, and the fragile truce in Gaza reached this week between Hamas and Israel. However, similar agreements have reportedly been "nearly ready" several times in the past as well, yet did not materialize.

The identities of the terrorists to be freed are not yet known, nor whether Israel has agreed to the incessant PA demands to free convicted murderer Marwan Barghouti and the killers of Government Minister and former IDF General Rehavam Ze'evi.

The question of releasing hundreds of terrorists in exchange for kidnapped Israelis has long been a controversial one in Israel. IDF historian Meir Pa'il totally dismisses the theory that if Israel gives in to Hamas demands, terrorists will kidnap more Israelis. "It's important for every soldier and Israeli to know," Pa'il said, "that if he is taken captive, we'll do everything to redeem him."

Col. (ret.) Meir Indor of the Almagor Terror Victims Association retorts, "That's important, but it's also important for every soldier and every Israeli to know that he won't be the next candidate for kidnapping. The kidnappers must be dealt with forcefully."

Family members of Shalit, as well as those of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev - two soldiers who were kidnapped by Hizbullah 4.5 months ago into Lebanon - have departed for Europe to lobby for their sons' release - or at least an initial sign that they are alive. No sign of life has been received from any of the three. The families will hold a public demonstration outside the European Parliament in Brussels, together with thousands of European Jews, on Wednesday.