Economy Minister Naftali Bennett had harsh words Tuesday for the Islamic terror group Hamas, which is accused of being responsible for the kidnapping last week of three Israeli teenagers, saying that Israel would turn membership in the organization into “a ticket to hell.”
Bennett, head of the hawkish Jewish Home party, also dismissed the Palestinian Authority’s condemnation of the kidnapping and said that Israel must stop its practice of releasing Palestinian prisoners in exchange for captured Israels, which, he said, leads to an endless cycle of kidnappings.
Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Frankel, 16, and Gil-ad Shaar, 16, were kidnapped late Thursday night south of Jerusalem. They were last seen at a hitchhiking post in the Etzion bloc at around 10 p.m.. The Israeli government has pointed the finger at Hamas and said that it holds the Palestinian Authority responsible for their well-being.
Since the kidnapping Israel has been conducting a massive manhunt in the West Bank and has arrested some 200 Palestinians, including dozens of senior Hamas members.
Speaking to Israel Radio, Bennett said that Israel was acting on multiple fronts to return the kidnapped teens, but was dealing not with a single instance but rather a “complete culture where Israel is [perceived as] Satan, not just by Hamas but also the Palestinian Authority… where they name squares after murderers and pay them salaries.”
The minister dismissed PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s condemnation Monday of the kidnappings, saying that “in English they speak of one thing, and in Arabic they speak of murder.” Palestinians celebrated the kidnapping by flashing a three-finger victory sign and by handing out candies to school children, Bennett said, accusing Jibril Rajoub, a prominent Fatah member and politician, of “celebrating the kidnappings on Palestinian TV.”
“We are not talking about Norway next to us,” Bennett said in an apparent reference to Hamas, but rather one of the most “lethal, barbaric organizations in the world.”
Israel must end the practice of releasing Palestinian prisoners in exchange for captured Israelis, Bennett stressed. “The State of Israel needs to stop releasing prisoners in instances like this, which we have done for 30 years… If we exchange prisoners, this cycle will never end,” he said.
Israel must “totally change direction” and make Hamas and other organizations understand that “kidnapping children will bring more and more headache… We will make Hamas membership a ticket to hell,” Bennett threatened.
He argued that the recent events in Iraq, where the Islamist extremist group ISIL has managed to run roughshod over US-backed Iraqi forces, demonstrated that even with Washington’s support, the Palestinian Authority couldn’t be trusted to deal with radical Islamists.
Notwithstanding the condemnation of the kidnappings by US Secretary of State John Kerry this week, Bennett said, “It is clear today, even more than usual, that Israel needs to take care of itself.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.