Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Thursday a plan aimed at pressuring Hamas into releasing captive soldier Gilad Shalit two days before the five-year anniversary to his abduction. Netanyahu said he has decided to change Israel's policy towards terrorists incarcerated
in the country.
The prime minister said that Israel has no other obligations beyond adhering to Israeli law, international law and international treaties. Speaking at the Presidential Conference in Jerusalem he said that the State will put an end to the Hamas prisoners' excessive conditions.
He did not specify the steps the government will take to alter confinement conditions but noted that he has canceled the "absurd" protocol allowing terrorists to enroll in academic studies. "There will be no more doctorates of terror," he said, "This party is over."
Netanyahu speaks at Presidential Conference (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
In March 2009, a committee headed by then Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann recommended worsening Hamas prisoners' conditions. No other decisions were made since. The committee recommended limiting family visits and denying physical contact, banning television, radio and newspapers and changing legislation to prevent administrative release and lawyer visits.
Netanyahu said that Israel must continue to pressure Hamas politically, morally and daily in order to advance Shalit's release. He congratulated leaders in France, Italy and England who urged Hamas to free the captive soldier and allow Red Cross visits.
'Just Say It' - Netanyahu urges Abbas to recognize Jewish state (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Referring to the peace process, Netanyahu again called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to recognize the Jewish state. He addressed his Bar-Ilan speech in which he supported the two-state solution, and said he will accept a Palestinian state.
The prime minister stressed that Israel's non-Jewish residents have full rights, the only Arabs in the region with such privileges. He rejected the notion of a bi-national state stressing that Israel must have a solid Jewish majority with an Arab minority.
Netanyahu expressed hope that Palestinian leaders will overcome the obstacle for peace, and recognize the Jewish state, paraphrasing the Nike ad with the message – "Just Say It."
President Peres said during the conference that he would like to see the Palestinian state as the first Arab country to enjoy democracy and peace. "I would like to see us live in peace, prosperity and security," he said.
Referring to relations with Egypt he said, "It may not be a perfect peace, but an imperfect peace it better than a perfect war. The time has come to conclude the agreements with the Palestinians, it's possible and better later than never. Compromises are necessary for our children, their children, our mothers, their mothers will live in peace."
State officials said that Netanyahu has been holding consultations recently and instructing legalists and security experts to draw up a list of minimal prisoner conditions required by the Red Cross and revoke anything beyond this. Inmate studies were canceled and phone calls and visits were limited.
The sources said that the steps taken in recent weeks were not publicized so as to prevent riots. "Any step taken has consequences," one state official explained. "We don't want theses steps to hurt Shalit or to see an uprising in the territories and the jails. The plan is to take steps that meet international law requirements."
Netanyahu's decision was met with rage in the Palestinian Authority. "There is nothing more with which to make the prisoners' lives harder as their current state is terrible," Qadura Fares told Ynet.
He claims the inmates' conditions have already been aggravated. "For three years now the prisoners have been barred from doing their matriculation exams. Israel is already creating difficulties for institutions trying to introduce text books in jails."
Meanwhile, Hamas official in Gaza Salah Bardwil questioned the Red Cross's call to allow its members to visit Gilad. He accused Israel of exploiting the organization to influence world opinion.
"Israel is trying to use some of the international organizations to cover for its heinous crimes of arresting thousands of Palestinians and preventing them from seeing their loves ones and murdering them under torture while causing a stir using the Red Cross. Shalit fell captive while bombing our men in Gaza with his tank," he said.
The Shalit family responded to Netanyahu's statements with a measure of indifference.
"We ask why have Israeli governments waited five years, in which Gilad rot in the Hamas jail?" Noam Shalit said. "Israeli governments failed to pressure Hamas for five years and therefore it is doubtful they will know how to do this today."
Head of the Shalit campaign Shimshon Libman said, "I respect the prime minister who after five years has decided to use the Hamas prisoners' confinement conditions to push Hamas."
He nevertheless noted that this option has been open for all governments since Shalit's adduction. "Now it's too little too late. We stand resolute – Gilad has paid the price and there's no time for playing games now. The prime minister must carry out the deal and return Gilad home at once."
Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch's communications director said that the minister and the Prison Service have been restricting inmates' conditions lately. Sources at the ministry said that Netanyahu's policy has been implemented in recent weeks.
Ronen Medzini, Attila Somfalvi, Ahiya Raved, Elior Levy and Omri Efraim contributed to this report