Ahead of an Israeli security cabinet meeting Sunday focusing on the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, hawkish top ministers said the territory’s Hamas rulers must return Israelis held there if they wish to receive aid.
“In recent days people have been talking about humanitarian steps,” Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) told reporters. “We need to remember that our sons, both bodies of soldiers and Israeli citizens, are held there.”
“Therefore I propose the following equation: Humanitarian [steps] in exchange for humanitarian [steps]. There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” he said. “On the other side [of the border] stands a vicious enemy waiting for signs of naivete and free gifts.”
Israeli civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed both crossed into Gaza of their own accord in 2014 and 2015, respectively. The bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul were snatched by Hamas in the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.
Earlier Sunday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman claimed in an interview with Army Radio that protests and tensions in the enclave didn’t originate with its collapsing economy — as many, including in Israel, have said. He called for an end to the “illusions and delusions that improving the economy will end terror.”
The primary obstacle to a solution, Liberman said, was Hamas’s objection to returning the Israeli captives in Gaza. Hamas “can get a generous humanitarian package if it returns the missing Israelis,” he said.
Gaza faces a lack of electricity, drinkable water and food. Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on the Strip which they say is designed to prevent Hamas from importing weapons and other goods that could be used to build fortifications or cross-border tunnels.
Gaza’s woes have been exacerbated by an ongoing dispute between Hamas and the PA, which has cut the salaries it pays to workers in Gaza and imposed various sanctions, including cutting of payments for electricity supplies to the enclave.
Goldin’s parents, Leah and Simcha, spoke on Sunday morning with cabinet ministers and asked them not to advance any humanitarian measures without returning the missing Israelis and bodies.
They said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had promised them that returning the soldiers would be a precondition for any agreement related to the Gaza Strip, and that they expected the premier to honor that promise.
“Netanyahu is the one who coined the phrase ‘If they give, they will receive; if they won’t give, they won’t receive.’ That is the message that must come today from the cabinet meeting,” the Goldins said in a statement, according to Hebrew-language media.
“The return of the boys is a distinct humanitarian issue, and that should be affirmed with all international bodies promoting an aid deal for Gaza,” they said.
Four Gazans were killed in clashes at the border Friday, the latest in a series of protests dubbed the “Great March of Return.” The IDF said demonstrators used helium-filled balloons to carry explosives, detonated by remote control, in attempts to attack troops.
Liberman said Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist and therefore will continue with hostilities no matter the situation in Gaza. He claimed that the thousands who protested and clashed with IDF troops on Friday were connected “directly or indirectly” with Hamas and had been left no choice but to attend the demonstration.
“Whoever thinks improving the civilian and economic situation in Gaza will halt the terror kites and the violence, is simply wrong,” he declared. “Enough with all sorts of illusions and delusions that improving the economy will end terror.
“The opposite is true — they’ll understand that with use of force and violence they can achieve political goals. To improve the reality in the Gaza Strip, the Hamas regime must be toppled. Anyone who wants more than four hours of electricity a day must topple the Hamas regime.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.