Israel Releases Palestinian and Arab Prisoners

The mother of a Palestinian held prisoner by Israel reacts as she is hugged by her grandson in Khan Younis

Israel government has decided to release over hundred prisoners who were suffering long term imprisonment. The number has been set at 104 prisoners, as announced on public radio. The prisoners, either Palestinian or Israeli Arab, are going to be the fortunate ones as the country desires to proceed toward peace talks. The cold war between Palestine and Israel may fizzle a bit by this project.

It reported that the 22-member cabinet on Sunday approved Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s proposal by 13 votes to seven, with two abstentions. Though there are controversies arising from different source, the government is still determined to set the prisoners free. According to them, it doesn’t help keeping people behind the bar. Others do not agree.

“Releasing terrorists for peace is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline, it is dangerous, immoral and irresponsible,” settler leader Dani Dayan said in a statement. Many anonymous leaders also confess their worries about the Palestinian prisoners. They are worried it may trigger many forces to terrorize the country.

The Cabinet approved the release in four stages over several months, with each step linked to progress in the negotiations. Commenting on the Israeli cabinet approval to release pre-Oslo Palestinian prisoners, Saeb Erekat, Palestinian chief negotiator, said in a statement that the work to release all political prisoners will continue. Releasing political prisoners is a process which every government pursues, whatever the condition is.

“This Israeli cabinet decision is an overdue step towards the implementation of the Sharm el Sheikh Agreement of 1999,” Erekat said, “whereby Israel committed to release all the pre-Oslo prisoners.”  He added, “We welcome this decision 14 years later.” It seems that the Israel cabinet is all ready to release the Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners.

On hearing Israel’s decision, Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian government spokesman, told Al Jazeera that such a decision was “long overdue,” as Israel “had released some Palestinian prisoners as part of the Oslo Accords, but kept 104.”

He went on to say that nothing was certain as “we need to wait and see because there are several times Israel has promised to do something and failed to do so.”  In his opinion, he did not see a strong connection between the upcoming negotiations between the two sides and the release of the prisoners.

“I think there are other more substantive political issues which need to be taken into consideration, such as dealing with the 1967 borders, as well as a freeze on settlements,” he said, two issues which are key for the Palestinians.

“I didn’t hear anything from the Israelis on either of these issues”, he added.

This time Palestine needs something more than oral assurances. They want their countrymen free at any cost. But it sounds like a lengthy process to set free 104 prisoners, and emotion is always by the side of prisoners. According to a list provided by the Palestinians, the prisoners have served between 19 and 30 years for involvement in deadly attacks on Israelis.

The planned releases have brought protests from Israeli victims’ families, settlers and Netanyahu’s hardline coalition partners. It’s very natural for victims to protest against the decision. It will be Netanyahu’s greatest challenge to win them over.

On Saturday, Netanyahu sought to charm opponents within his own party, having his office tell the media he had said: “There are moments when one must make hard decisions for the good of the country and this is one of those moments.”

“This moment is not easy is for me, not easy for the ministers, and especially not easy for the bereaved families,” Netanyahu said.  He seems eager enough to free the Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners. Hopefuls, hope against hope,  that age old Israel Palestine war may end soon – or may be it’s just the starting of the end. Only future knows the answer.


Written by: Jayeeta Shamsul