As the march by First Sergeant Gilad Shalit's family and supporters neared Jerusalem, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took a step Thursday to preempt public pressure on him and gave a clear statement of his policy on freeing terrorists.
In a live news conference, Netanyahu said that Israel agreed to free 1,000 Hamas terrorists from its jails in exchange for Shalit, who was abducted four years ago. This, he said, is a heavy price to pay. However, he said, Israel would not compromise on two principles in the negotiations for Shalit: First, it would not free terrorists who had murdered people into Judea and Samaria, but rather – into Gaza or other countries. Second, it would not free “arch-terrorists” who killed dozens of people.
Freeing murderers into Judea and Samaria would strengthen the terror infrastructure there and lead to a surge in attacks on Israelis, he explained. The attacks would not be limited to Judea and Samaria but would reach central Israel and Tel Aviv, he reminded the Israeli viewing audience – a large proportion of which is concentrated in Israel's coastal plain.
Freeing the “arch-terrorists” would strengthen Hamas's leadership, he said.
Netanyahu noted that Israel had, in some cases, used force to free hostages. His brother, Yoni, he noted, was killed in an IDF raid for freeing hostages on an Air France jet that was hijacked to Uganda in 1976. He himself, he added, was hurt in an operation for freeing hostages on a hijacked Sabena jet (in 1972). But in some instances, he explained, Israel adopted a policy of freeing prisoners in exchange for hostages. He then told the story of the deal for freeing Elchanan Tenenbaum in 2004. The terrorists freed in that deal murdered 17 Israelis after their release, he said.
As Prime Minister, he said, he bears the responsibility for the security of the entire nation. He said that while he feels the pain in the eyes of the Shalit family – he also feels the pain in the eyes of terror victims' families. "The State of Israel is willing to pay a heavy price” for Gilad Shalit, Netanyahu said, but it cannot say it will pay “any price” for his freedom.
The Prime Minister's statement echoed themes that have been sounded over the past few years by terror victim families' representatives, which have done their best to balance the public relations machine that is operating in favor of accepting to Hamas's demands for Shalit. Victims' group Almagor has put together a mosaic of photographs of 180 Israelis murdered between 2000 and 2006 by terrorists released in swaps for hostages.