In a final push to exert pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to use the Turkey reconciliation agreement to secure the return two MIA soldiers' bodies and two civilians from Gaza, their families met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday to solicit his direct cooperation. They vowed to pressure every minister to oppose the deal when it is voted upon on Wednesday morning.
“You initiated the ceasefire that was exploited by Hamas to kidnap Hadar Goldin,” the families told Mr. Ban during the half-hour intimate conversation in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. “Now we seek your involvement. Just as Gaza deserves humanitarian assistance, we also deserve humanitarian assistance.”
Zehava Shaul, the mother of IDF soldier Oron Shaul, also made an emotional plea to Ban, imploring him to help in returning their sons: “I turn to you as a mother. For two years we have been without life. For two years I have waited for my son to return.”
Netanyahu, who was also present at the meeting with Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, presented pictures of the missing boys that are being held by Hamas and also requested his help.
“It is unjustified,” Mr. Ban exclaimed before recalling how, in the past, he also met with Gilad Shalit, an IDF soldier taken captive by Hamas in 2006 and set free in a prisoner swap in 2011. He then promised to appoint an official representative to handle the matter and promised that he would immediately look into how assistance could be provided upon his return to New York.
But the families left the meeting overwhelmed with disappointment and despair: “We entered the meeting with hope and left it disappointed. The UN secretary-general said that the matter was a humanitarian one. We therefore ask that the (Turkey) agreement not be signed,” said Zehava Shaul.
Simcha Goldin, IDF officer Hadar Goldin’s father, expressed slightly more optimism that the UN chief would assist in the matter. “Ban said he sees (the matter) as a humanitarian one and that is how the government also needs to view it.”
Ilan Mangisto, whose brother Avra crossed the border into Gaza in September of 2014, attended the meeting without his parents since they believed that nothing had changed. “We will continue with our humanitarian struggle. I call on the cabinet members to stop the approval of the agreement. Freeze it until the boys’ return is finalized. We are all united behind one goal and share the same pain.”
In light of the deal which was signed on Tuesday, devoid of any assurances of the return of Goldin’s and Shaul’s bodies along with Avra Mangisto, it is not clear how the cabinet will vote. As things stand, two ministers—Yuval Steinitz and Yoav Galant—will definitely throw their lot behind the prime minister while three will seek to undermine the deal.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett has been the most vociferous against the signing of the deal while Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman also joined the opposition camp. According to them, not a single cabinet meeting has been convened in which the Turkey deal was discussed that, according to Bennett, amounted to “turning us into a rubber stamp.” The ministers complained, “How can a decision like this be brought to us last minute. They are putting pressure on us to approve the agreement after we know it had already been signed.” Source close to Netanyahu have denied these claims.
Nevertheless, four remaining ministers are yet to reveal their stance publicly. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, for example, as late as Wednesday morning refused to comment on how he would vote but assured that he would ask all the necessary questions. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Transport Minister Yisrael Katz and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri have also yet to state their position.
On Tuesday night, the prime minister’s close circle attempted to exert pressure on the more hesitant elements by saying, “There is a question over whether there will be a majority vote in favor of the agreement, and therefore it is not certain that a vote will take place.”
In the meantime, Oron Shaul’s family and friends have congregated once again outside the Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday morning: “We will go to every single minister and convince him to oppose,” said Zehava Shaul. "We are here so that the ministers will look at us before the vote. We ask that one clause is added to the agreement making is signing conditional upon the return of our boys. Their fate depends on the vote of the cabinet members. This is the last opportunity.”