Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his top ministers yesterday debated whether to approve an emotionally charged deal to trade 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for an Israeli soldier held by Gaza militants for more than three years.
Netanyahu and six ministers had met three times on Sunday, including a session that lasted late into the night. With the group divided over the proposed deal, Netanyahu could well bring the final decision to a vote in his full Cabinet.
At a protest tent outside the prime minister's official residence, dozens of demonstrators carried cardboard cutouts of the captured soldier, 23-year-old Sergeant Gilad Schalit, and urged Cabinet ministers to wrap up an agreement.
A deal, if approved, could dramatically improve the standing of the Gaza Strip's Islamic militant Hamas rulers among Palestinians and herald an easing of the blockaded territory's crippling isolation. The chief loser could be Hamas' bitter rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is backed by the West but whose popularity has suffered at home.
Bringing Schalit home could boost Netanyahu domestically given the Israeli public's deep concern for the young man's fate. However, it could also hurt the prime minister's standing among Israelis who feel releasing prisoners convicted of violence would only invite more bloodshed.
The swap, if approved, would be subject to a 48-hour period for opponents to file legal challenges. Hamas spokesmen had no comment on the dealmaking yesterday.
Israel and the Iranian-backed Hamas have held multiple rounds of swap talks, most mediated by Egypt, ever since militants affiliated with the Islamic group dragged a bleeding Schalit into Gaza following a cross-border raid in June 2006 that also killed two other soldiers. Momentum picked up in recent months with the introduction of a German mediator into the negotiations.
Israel has been reluctant to meet Hamas' demand to release dozens of Palestinians involved in deadly attacks on Israelis - including some of the most notorious suicide bombings of recent years. It also wants some of the prisoners deported outside the West Bank, for fear they would resume their violence against Israel, as did some Palestinians freed in previous releases.
Schalit's parents were scheduled to meet with Netanyahu yesterday morning, but the meeting was postponed until ministers reach a decision.
（中国日报网英语点津 Helen 编辑）
About the broadcaster:
Linda Kennedy is a presenter and writer. She has reported and commented extensively on BBC TV, and was a correspondent for "News at Ten" on ITV. She also wrote a column for The Scotsman newspaper.