It’s Ehud Barak’s fault that Israel eventually released 1,100 terrorists in exchange for the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, according to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The former Prime Minister is set to make the comments in his first public interview since being released from prison eight months ago. The interview, and a profile article in Yediot Acharonot that will appear in the paper’s Friday edition, are part of a public relations campaign preceding the publication of an autobiography by Olmert about his time in prison.
Olmert said that he had received word that Hamas was prepared to make a deal to release Shalit in 2009, right before he left the Prime Minister’s office, and two years before the actual deal was made. According to Olmert, he had sent top security official Yuval Diskin to Cairo in order to discuss the deal, but that Hamas had decided, based on actions of Barak’s, who was Olmert’s Defense Minister, to back away and harden its stance.
“At the very end of my term we heard about the willingness of Hamas to make a deal for Shalit. We decided to put together a delegation headed by Yuval Diskin, who until then did not believe Hamas would be willing to make a deal. There was a set protest tent outside the Prime Minister’s office then with members of the Shalit family and their supporters demanding the release of the soldier,” who had been kidnapped in 2006, said Olmert.
“Diskin was in Cairo, and Barak meanwhile went into the Shalit protest tent. Then all of a sudden the Shin Bet called me up and said that Hamas had decided not to make a deal. I asked why and they said that they had ‘definite information’ that Hamas said that if Barak went to the protest tent that meant that Israel was under pressure to free Shalit, and if that was the case they could demand more, and they backed away from the deal. I blame him for irresponsible behavior that caused the deal to fall through.”
Presumably, the price for a deal initiated by Hamas would have been a lot lower than the one they demanded two years later, when under extreme public pressure the government released some 1,100 terrorists in exchange for Shalit, the former prime minister said. “We were forced to release the worst murderers. I would never have made such a deal.”
Earlier, Barak wrote in a social media post that Olmert could not be believed about anything, including what he wrote about the former defense minister. “Olmert is a habitual liar, certified as such by the courts.” Responding to a charge Olmert made in the Yediot interview – that he had sought to merge the Labor Party with Olmert’s Kadima – Barak wrote that “this is a lie like everything else he has said. His version of the events is a made-up lie.”
Olmert was released last July after serving 18 months of a 27-month sentence, convicted for his role in the Holyland construction project scandal, in which the court said that he had illegally approved the apartment project in the Malha neighborhood of Yerushalayim in exchange for favors. He entered Maasiyahu prison in central Israel in February 2016 to begin serving his sentence, after his appeals to overturn his conviction on corruption charges were rejected.