The parents of fallen IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, whose bodies are still being held by Hamas in Gaza since their deaths in the 2014 war in Gaza, railed at Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Sunday.
Liberman had vowed earlier Sunday not to repeat the “mistake” of an earlier prisoner swap, without citing other ways to secure the return the soldiers’ bodies.
“Liberman violated his commitment to the IDF’s code of ethics” by failing to bring back the remains, Simha Goldin, Hadar’s father, charged in a press conference. “We are asking that the cabinet accept our proposal — not to return prisoners, [but rather] to stop visits for Hamas prisoners and to put an end to this summer camp, and to stop humanitarian gestures by Israel and the international community toward Gaza.”
Goldin said that “the reason our requests have not been accepted is because Israel has a weak and cowardly defense minister.”
Addressing the resignation last week of Lior Lotan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s representative overseeing efforts to retrieve the remains of two IDF soldiers and three living Israelis from the Gaza Strip, Liberman had said their return continues to be a top priority.
“I consider this to be of the utmost moral and ethical import, first and foremost to the families and to the IDF and the State of Israel,” he said in a statement.
Lotan, who was appointed in 2014, replaced David Meidan, who held the coordinator position for three years. Meidan had played a key role in drawing up the prisoner exchange deal for the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit from Hamas captivity in 2011 in exchange for some 1,000 Palestinian security prisoners.
But Liberman said that while Israel will continue to work for the return of the Israelis and the bodies of the IDF soldiers, it will not go down the same path again. “We must not repeat the mistake of the Shalit deal. In the deal, 1,027 terrorists were released, among them murderers and their agents,” he said, singling out the releases of Mahmoud Kawasme and Yahya Sinwar.
Kawasme helped fund the June 2014 kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers who were killed shortly after they were abducted. Sinwar, considered to be one of Hamas’s most ruthless leaders, was elected as the terror group’s leader in the Gaza Strip earlier this year.
The defense minister said that in light of the Shalit deal, “clear boundaries” must be drawn up for prisoner swap negotiations before a replacement for Lotan is appointed in order to make “clear to [Israel’s enemies] that we have no intention of compromising on the security of the people of Israel.”
The bodies of Goldin and Shaul have been held by Hamas since they were killed in the Gaza Strip during the war there in 2014. The terror group is also believed to be holding three Israeli citizens — Avraham Abera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima — who are all said to have entered the Gaza Strip of their own accord.
Simha Goldin called on Netanyahu to redouble his efforts to secure the return of the captives and fallen soldiers.
“Israel’s policy to the missing [in action] was set long ago by prime ministers. It’s part of the responsibility of the job. I turn to Prime Minister Netanyahu and say there must be a new coordinator appointed immediately,” he said. “You, Prime Minister, must fulfill your promises to us and our children. Our son Hadar is not a ‘deal,’ but a hero. Don’t turn him into a ‘cost.’ This is not a trading floor.”
While Israel has played down reports of progress in Egyptian-mediated negotiations for a prisoner swap, an unnamed Palestinian source told the London-based Arabic-language Al-Hiyat newspaper in July that negotiations have “come a long way.”
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is set to meet with the Goldin, Shaul and Mengistu families on Wednesday as part of a three-day trip to the region.
Alex Fullbright contribute to this report.