Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett advocated, on Thursday, for Israelis to kidnap Palestinians, to be used as leverage to obtain the release of two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two soldiers held in the besieged Gaza Strip, Israeli media reported.
In an interview with Radio Darom, Bennett — who leads the far-right Jewish Home party — discussed the issue of releasing Palestinian prisoners as part of a deal to obtain the return of Israeli citizens Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, as well as the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, two soldiers killed during Israel’s 2014 offensive on Gaza.
“My policies are consistent over the years: complete opposition to disproportionate deals to free terrorists, and certainly in exchange for bodies,” The Times of Israel quoted Bennett as saying, according to Ma’an.
According to Israeli news outlet The Jerusalem Post, Bennett then advocated for the kidnapping of Palestinians to pressure for the release of the slain soldiers and missing Israelis.
“We should do what the State of Israel once did,” he said. “What we once did in such situations was we would go and kidnap from the other side, and create new leverage against the other side, rather than releasing more and more terrorists.”
The Jerusalem Post quoted Bennett’s spokesperson as specifying that the far-right political leader was suggesting kidnapping “terrorists,” not Palestinian civilians.
It remained unclear from Bennett’s statement whether he advocated the kidnapping of Palestinians to use as a bargaining chip to exchange with Israelis, in contradiction of his earlier statement, or as an intimidation tactic to coerce those holding the Israelis in Gaza into releasing them.
It was also unclear whether Bennett was pushing for Israel should detain more Palestinians in addition to the 7,000 currently held in Israeli prisons, or hold them completely extrajudicially.
Spokespeople for the Education Ministry and Bennett’s office were unavailable for comment on Friday, the weekend in Israel, to clarify the minister’s statements.
Bennett is well known for his incendiary rhetoric vis-a-vis Palestinians.
In the wake of several attacks last week which killed two Israelis, including a 13-year-old girl, and three Palestinians, Bennett advocated for a number of measures which have been denounced by rights groups as constituting collective punishment.
These proposed measures, many of which have been implemented, included increased settlement construction; stepping up Israel’s policy of demolition of Palestinian property built without permits; full Israeli military control over the entirety of the occupied West Bank; military closures of suspected attackers’ hometowns; the detention of suspected attackers’ family members; and cutting off internet and cellular access to the southern West Bank district of Hebron.
Israel is still withholding the bodies of at least seven Palestinians killed by Israeli forces since October, as the slain Palestinians’ families remain uncertain as to when, and if, they will be released for burial.
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