Netanyahu Expected To Appoint New Shalit Negotiator

By Barak Ravid and Jack Khoury and Avi Issacharoff (Haaretz)

Published April 20, 2009.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is re-examining the handling of the Gilad Shalit case and will soon remove Ofer Dekel as special negotiator for bringing the abducted soldier back. A source in Netanyahu’s bureau said that “everything related to the Shalit affair is under reconsideration and everything is open.”

A week ago Netanyahu met with Dekel, who was former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s special envoy concerning Shalit. The two discussed the contacts over Shalit’s release since the soldier was abducted to Gaza in June 2006. The two will meet again Thursday, when Netanyahu is expected to tell Dekel he will appoint a new negotiating team.

The Shalit family met Netanyahu last week and asked him to replace Dekel, Channel 2 reported Sunday. Family members said they had lost faith in Dekel and Netanyahu has agreed to the request, Channel 2 reported. Shalit’s father, however, has denied he has lost faith in Dekel.

In any case, the prime minister is expected to consider new possibilities concerning the case, even if he has yet to come up with a specific plan or candidate to replace Dekel, said a source in the Prime Minister’s Bureau.

“We are still studying the matter and I have yet to formulate the appropriate direction for continuing negotiations,” Netanyahu reportedly said.

General Omar Suleiman, the head of Egyptian intelligence, will arrive in Israel on Wednesday and meet with Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He will discuss the Shalit affair among many other issues. It is not clear whether Suleiman will meet with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Shalit’s family and the organization working on his behalf said Sunday they have not received any notification that Dekel is leaving his post. “I have no information on that,” Gilad’s father Noam told Haaretz. He added that he is not involved in matters concerning personnel, “but what is important is that Gilad returns home as quickly as possible.”

Noam Shalit also denied reports that the family had lost faith in Dekel. “We said nothing of the sort, we raised a number of issues but we never said we lost faith in anyone,” he said.

Both the Shalit family and the organization are currently keeping a low profile and not taking public action.

The negotiations over Shalit’s release reached a decisive point just days before Olmert left office and Netanyahu took over. Netanyahu had given Olmert his support for a solution before the changeover, so the issue would not be waiting for him.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the replacement of Dekel was an internal Israeli matter and did not interest Hamas. He said it would not affect the Shalit affair in any way, though it did prove Hamas’ claim that there is a dispute on the Israeli side on how to handle the matter and the entire Palestinian issue. “The problem is not ours but on the Israeli side,” Barhoum said.



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