Deal’s collapse extends Shalit order in Gaza
JERUSALEM —They have come by the thousands — first-grade classes, families from the North, government ministers, rabbis, even tourists.
The black tarp tent where Gilad Shalit’s family has taken up temporary residence, outside the prime minister’s Jerusalem home, has become Israel’s newest pilgrimage site.
The Shalits hoped their presence would put pressure on the government to cinch a deal with Hamas for a prisoner swap that finally would bring home their son nearly 1,000 days since he was captured in a cross-border raid and spirited into Gaza.
“It’s pretty surprising because we did not expect so many people to come,” Noam Shalit, the captive soldier’s father, told JTA. “They have come to give their support and show their solidarity with us, and we were taken aback. We undertook this as a test of the public but never imagined this kind of turnout.”
“It helps us cope,” he said, “but it also, I assume, is getting attention for us in higher places.”
In what has felt like a national emotional roller-coaster ride, anticipation in Israel for a deal to release Shalit had grown in the waning days of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s administration. But by Tuesday, an 11th-hour agreement with Hamas appeared to have fallen through. Olmert in a television address to the nation delivered the disappointing news at a special news conference on Tuesday evening.
“The government’s ministers heard an expanded and detailed report from Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin and Ofer Dekel, my personal envoy on the matter of prisoner exchanges,” Olmert said. “All government ministers accepted the position of the envoys, namely that the demands of Hamas as they stand do not allow us to go on with the deal.”
Israeli officials said Hamas was emboldened by the recent groundswell of public support for a Shalit deal and had hardened its demands. Hamas demanded the release of some 450 Palestinian prisoners, among them masterminds of suicide bombings that killed dozens of Israelis.
“We will not agree to release prisoners other than the hundreds we already agreed to,” Olmert said.
“Disappointment” read the tabloid headline on Israel’s daily Yediot Achronot.
While the Cabinet voted against the deal, a poll by the Dahaf Polling Institute found that 69 percent of Israelis surveyed favored a deal to get back Shalit even if it would include the release “of hundreds of terrorist-murderers and the deportation of some of them to outside Palestinian Authority territory.”