Ex-PM Olmert says he turned down better swap deals to free Shalit

Ex-PM Olmert says he turned down better swap deals to free Shalit

In first public remarks since release from jail, Olmert slams Netanyahu for freeing more than 1,000 prisoners for soldier, says he hopes PM leaves office quickly

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert speaks during a conference in Tel Aviv, on February 7, 2018. (Flash90)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert speaks during a conference in Tel Aviv, on February 7, 2018. (Flash90)

In his first public appearance since being released from prison, former prime minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday wished his successor Benjamin Netanyahu would “quickly” end his tenure, said he has not been in contact with him since 2009, and slammed him for approving a 2011 prisoner swap deal with Hamas in which Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian terrorists in exchange for a kidnapped IDF soldier.

Olmert, who was prime minister from 2006 to 2008, refused to comment on the current probes involving Israel’s current leader during a speech at the Beit Hatfutsot museum in Tel Aviv.

“I’m not known as someone who remains silent, and I thought it would be appropriate to keep silent and not rush,” he said, adding that he and Netanyahu have not been in contact since 2009, when Netanyahu replaced him. “I occasionally hear stuff from my family. I wish the prime minister would end his term quickly and in a proper way.”

Olmert, who last July finished serving a 16-month sentence for corruption charges, spoke at an event in Tel Aviv marking the 70th anniversary of the battles of Latrun, fought during Israel’s 1948 Independence War.

Released Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit (second right), walks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (second left), then-defense minister Ehud Barak (left), and ex-chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz (right), at the Tel Nof air base in southern Israel, October 18, 2011. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry/ Flash90)

He revealed that, as prime minister, he refused to approve a deal to release Gilad Shalit, a soldier kidnapped in 2006 by Hamas near the Gaza border, citing the high price demanded by the Palestinian terror group.

Netanyahu eventually reached an agreement with Hamas in 2011, and ordered the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian terrorists, in what is known as the Shalit Deal.

“It is hard to talk about the price we have paid,” said Olmert, according to the Ynet news website. “The price I refused to pay was lower, both in the number of those released and in their caliber.”

Olmert said he had met with Shalit’s family members, but turned down their demands. “I always told them, ‘You are the parents, you can ask to release not a thousand, but ten thousand.’ It’s human and understandable,” he said, “but I as prime minister won’t do that. From a prime minister’s viewpoint, things must be looked at in a different way.”

“Despite all the pain, a state can’t go to war and endanger its soldiers in order to free a person. It’s wrong to do that. It needs to be said rather than obscured by talk about the merciful Jewish heart. That is the leadership’s job,” said Olmert to cheers from the crowd.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert leaves Ramle’s Ma’asiyahu prison on July 2, 2017, following his release. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

Olmert praised a prisoner swap deal with Lebanese terror group Hezbollah he himself authorized as prime minister in 2008, in which Israel received the bodies of two IDF soldiers in exchange for five terrorists, including high-profile Palestine Liberation Front member Samir Kuntar, and some 200 bodies.

“In that case, we made the best deal ever made in the context of prisoner swaps. We released one despicable murderer who had been in prison for 30 years,” he said, referring to Kuntar, and released another man who was a bit weird, mentally unhealthy and whom we wanted to get rid of,” he added, apparently referring to Nasim Nisr, a former Israeli citizen, who was convicted of spying for Hezbollah.

Olmert said that deal was struck after Israel threatened Hezbollah to declare the soldiers dead and halt the negotiation process. “Only then did they announce that they accepted the deal,” he said. “This gives an indication of what needs to be done when dealing with people who aren’t alive.”

The former prime minister was then asked what should be done to return the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, believed to be held by Hamas since kidnapping them in 2014.

“They are two dead soldiers,” he answered, expressing hope that the government could “at the right time and in the right way” bring their bodies to be buried. “I wouldn’t do more than that.”

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