Israel will not agree to the early release of Palestinian prisoners under any circumstances, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Sunday, rejecting chances that Israel would seek a swap to gain the release of three Israeli teenagers kidnapped Thursday in the West Bank.
Liberman, speaking to Army Radio from the Ivory Coast, where he is on a diplomatic trip, said the kidnapping of three teenagers — Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 19 — was partially the consequence of Israel’s policy of releasing batches of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for kidnapped Israelis.
“There will be no more prisoner releases in instances such as this,” Liberman said, adding that “in no way will those who sit in Israeli prisons be freed.”
He said ministers from his Yisrael Beytenu party would not vote to free Palestinian terrorists.
Liberman drew a link between the kidnapping and the deal to free kidnapped Israeli soldiers Gilad Shalit in 2011, which saw the release of 1,027 long-term prisoners, many of whom had been convicted on terror charges.
He added that long-serving Palestinian prisoners, some of whom hold senior positions in Hamas and other terror groups, are agitating behind the scenes for kidnapping attempts, as it is seen as the surest way to gain freedom.
On Friday, a senior Islamic Jihad official called on Palestinians to kidnap Israeli citizens, arguing that Israel had proven in the past that it was willing to negotiate the release of Palestinian security prisoners in exchange for the lives of its civilians.
Speaking during a protest in the Gaza Strip, Khaled Albatsh specifically urged members of his organization to target Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
The three Israeli teens were grabbed while hitchhiking near the settlement of Alon Shvut south of Jerusalem Thursday night.
Liberman laid the blame for the kidnapping at the feet of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, calling it the fruit of the recently established Palestinian unity government, which enabled Hamas to increase its activities in the West Bank.
“Clearly, Mahmoud Abbas is responsible [for the kidnappings],” Liberman said, because he “established a unity government [with Hamas], but says he has no control of the Gaza Strip…on the other hand he lets Hamas act freely in Judea and Samaria, and we see the results.”
Liberman’s comments echoed that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on Saturday said that “the pact with Hamas has led to very harsh results, results which are the exact opposite of advancing peace between us and the Palestinians,” and, although he did not name Hamas, said that there was not doubt that the three teens were kidnapped by a terror group.
Hamas has denied involvement in the kidnapping, although the group on Saturday praised the kidnappers as heroes and said PA coordination with Israel in attempting to locate the three victims was a “mark of disgrace.”
The foreign minister declined to discuss possible Israeli intelligence failures which led to the successful kidnapping or the current state of affairs on the ground, and asked the public to be patient until more details are revealed.
Since the incident began, Israeli forces have entered into a massive manhunt as part of an ongoing investigation into the disappearances.
Overnight Sunday Israeli forces rounded up some 80 Palestinians, including senior members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups, as part of the search for the missing teens.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Saturday afternoon that Israel’s working assumption was that the three were still alive. He admitted that their apparent abduction had slipped “under the radar” of intelligence gatherers who failed to thwart the attack.
“We are in the midst of an intelligence (gathering) and operational effort,” Ya’alon told reporters early Saturday afternoon after holding a situation meeting with military brass. “I hope this effort leads us as soon as possible to the missing (teens) and to rescuing them alive.”
“As long as we don’t know differently, our working assumption is that they are still alive,” Ya’alon said. “This phenomenon of abductions, of abduction attempts, is nothing new,” he added. “In 2013 we successfully prevented over 30 such abduction attempts; this year, in 2014, around 14 such kidnapping attempts.”