On June 25, 2006, less than a year after the government forced nearly 10,000 Jews out of Gaza as part of the "Disengagement" program, eight terrorists from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance group and the Army of Islam staged a cross-border raid via a tunnel near Kibbutz Kerem Shalom. They set off explosives that struck Shalit's tank, killing two IDF soldiers, and wounding one. The terrorists abducted Shalit, who suffered shoulder and stomach injuries, according to intelligence sources.
The following day, PA terrorists demanded the release of female terrorists and prisoners and minors offering information concerning Shalit's whereabouts in exchange. Prime Minister Olmert stated, "The question of the release of prisoners is not at all on the agenda of the government of Israel." On June 28, he added, "We won't hesitate to carry out extreme action to bring Gilad back to his family."
The question of the release of prisoners is not at all on the agenda of the government of Israel.
The Foreign Ministry, headed by Tzipi Livni, followed up on July 1, stating that "there will not be any deal. The soldier Shalit will be released or else we will be compelled to act to release him.”
That same day, the terrorists demanded 1,000 prisoners. Two days later, they gave Israel a 24-hour ultimatum, which Israel rejected.
On July 10, the Prime Minister remained adamant. He declared it would be a "major mistake" to free Arab terrorists in exchange for Shalit and that there can be no negotiations with the "bloody organization."
But the government's hand was weakened severely two days later when Hizbullah terrorists duplicated the Gaza terrorist operation and staged a cross-border raid from Lebanon, killing four IDF soldiers and kidnapping reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.
During the ensuing war, Israel captured three Hizbullah terrorists and has allowed the Red Cross to visit them at least twice, in accordance with international law, but has failed to secure the same privilege for its own kidnapped soldiers. Their fate and location is not known.
Prime Minister Olmert quickly backtracked on his vows and began a 180-degree about-face. He told a news conference September 9, "I have always been willing to meet with Abu Mazen...and also now I have no conditions for this matter. I can say that a meeting with Abu Mazen [Abbas] could even be helpful on the issue of Gilad Shalit."
Several weeks after having told US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in early October that Israel would not release terrorists until Shalit is freed, Prime Minister Olmert announced in late October that Israel is prepared to release "many" terrorists in return for Shalit. In the same speech, he acceded to Secretary Rice's request for concessions and offered to ease travel restrictions on PA Arabs and free up frozen funds if violence against Israel ended.
After making the concessions, Olmert and Abbas on November 26 announced a joint ceasefire on terrorist and counter-terrorist operations in Gaza.
Several hours later, more rockets struck Israel. Arab terrorists, including those belonging to Abbas' military branch, have since set off dozens of roadside bombs and fired several hundred rockets on southern Israel, killing three people, wounding hundreds, causing widespread damage and turning the working-class city of Sderot into a disaster area.
During the past several weeks, while the Shalit family remains tortured by uncertainty, the Olmert administration and the PA have conducted negotiations on the issue of Israel releasing prisoners. Hamas several times has staged media fanfare and stated that a deal is close, only to follow the statements several days later with accusations that Israel has blocked an agreement.
On Saturday, Hamas' deputy political chief Moussa Abu Marzouk told an Egyptian paper that the release of the kidnapped Shalit was not on the agenda right now because Israel has rejected its list of terrorists for release.
Abbas has insisted that Shalit is alive and in good health, but no one on Israel's side knows. Intelligence reports published in Israeli newspapers last summer stated that he was smuggled into the Egyptian side of Rafiah, which straddles the Gaza-Egyptian border.
The inability of Prime Minister Olmert to make any progress in freeing Shalit has not gone unnoticed by the Arab world. The Egyptian Al Ahram weekly noted two months ago, "Olmert is apparently worried that freeing many Palestinian prisoners would boost Palestinian morale [and] strengthen the Palestinian national unity government as well as the Hamas movement.
"But the Israeli premier is also facing a predicament. Shalit will not be released alive, or even dead, until Israel releases Palestinian prisoners.
"Initially, Israel sought to free Shalit by force... When that failed to liberate Shalit, the Israeli army resorted to apprehending dozens of Palestinian officials, including cabinet ministers and lawmakers.
"When this tactic also failed, the Israeli government resorted to rounding up hundreds of Palestinian citizens from the West Bank [and] at one point Israel went as far as to suggest unfreezing the hundreds of millions of dollars of Palestinian tax money withheld by the Jewish state since last year in exchange for Shalit's release."
Shalit's parents wait and pray from their western Galilee home. Their son, the second of three children, enlisted in the army a year before he was abducted.
He is to celebrate his 21st birthday in August--if he still is alive.