Israel Names Palestinian Prisoners to Be Released

Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

JERUSALEM -- Israel announced early Monday the names of 26 Palestinian prisoners to be released as part of a deal for the resumption of peace talks here this week, but there were few initial signs that the move had inspired much enthusiasm for the negotiations.

Israeli newspapers highlighted the crimes committed by the prisoners, most of whom have served 20 years or more in prison for deadly attacks against Israelis. The list of prisoners, which was released after midnight, included one of the killers of Isaac Rotenberg, a Holocaust survivor who was 67 at the time of his death in 1994, and the man who killed an 84-year-old Israeli, Avraham Kinstler, with blows from an ax.

The prisoners are scheduled to be released late Tuesday or in the early hours of Wednesday, the day the talks are scheduled to begin.

For the Palestinian leaders, the achievement of a promised prisoner release was overshadowed by Israel's announcement on Sunday that it planned to construct more housing in settlements, an issue that prompted the Palestinians to walk out of the most recent talks in 2010.

Israel published bids on Sunday for the construction of more than 1,000 housing units in contested East Jerusalem and several large West Bank settlements.

That announcement was part of a political balancing act that intensified the already charged atmosphere, as the settlement move appeared to be a gesture intended to satisfy the right-wing members of the Israeli government before the release of the 26 prisoners.

While the planning and building of settlements have continued in the months preceding the talks, causing constant friction, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new governing coalition had so far refrained from issuing construction bids since being formed in March. The publishing of bids is the final bureaucratic stage before new construction can begin.

Uri Ariel, the housing minister from the pro-settlement Jewish Home Party, announced the contentious move while Mr. Netanyahu was recovering in a Jerusalem hospital after surgery for a hernia. The prime minister was discharged from the hospital later on Sunday.

"No country in the world accepts dictates from other countries about where it is allowed to build and where not," Mr. Ariel said in a statement, referring to international criticism of Israel's continuing efforts to build up the settlements.

Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, said: "The construction decided upon today in Jerusalem and in the settlement blocs is in areas that will remain part of Israel in any possible future peace agreement. This in no way changes the final map of peace. It changes nothing."

But it appeared that the talks scheduled for Wednesday would take place amid a storm of mutual recrimination.

Muhammad Shtayyeh, a senior Palestinian negotiator, issued a statement on Sunday accusing Israel of deliberately trying to sabotage the talks and of using them "as a smoke screen for more settlement construction."

Last week, Saeb Erekat, another senior Palestinian negotiator, sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, who brokered the deal for resuming talks. The letter protested Israel's preliminary approval for 800 new homes in the West Bank, many of them in small, isolated settlements likely to be removed as part of any final peace agreement.

Much of the world views the settlements -- in territory that Israel seized from Jordan during the 1967 war, and where the Palestinians envision their future state -- as a violation of international law.

The United States has called on each side to exercise restraint. But a senior State Department official told reporters last month that some Israeli settlement activity would most likely continue.

In what appeared to be a move to counter the Palestinian protests, Mr. Netanyahu sent a letter to Mr. Kerry over the weekend in which he strongly criticized what he described as continuing incitement against Israel by the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, according to officials in the prime minister's office.

As an example of incitement, Mr. Netanyahu cited a statement that Mr. Abbas made late last month, suggesting that a Palestinian state, once established, would not allow the presence of a single Israeli. Mr. Netanyahu also cited remarks by an anchorman on the official Palestinian Authority television station who recently described Palestine as including the entire territory that is now Israel.

Still, the timing of the settlement move prompted criticism in Israel, even from within the government.

The finance minister, Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid Party, said in a statement that using housing resources "to needlessly challenge the Americans and to poke sticks in the wheels of peace talks is not right and not helpful to the process."

Anti-settlement activists in Israel who monitor construction said that the bids for about half of the nearly 800 units to be built in East Jerusalem were not even new and had been previously published. But because they did not end in contracts, they were eligible to be reissued on Sunday.

Amram Mitzna, a legislator from the party of Tzipi Livni, the Israeli government's chief negotiator with the Palestinians, described the settlement announcement as "delusional" and said the government was taking contradictory actions.

"It takes a step, a very difficult step, a very sensitive step, such as the release of murderers," he told Israel Radio. "On the other hand, it tries to balance it, as it were, by building in the territories."

A decision to release 104 prisoners over the coming months is deeply unpopular in Israel. Mr. Netanyahu has explained it as a gesture necessary to persuade the Palestinian leadership to agree to resume long-stalled negotiations. Twelve of those to be released this week are from the West Bank and 14 are from Gaza. Eight of the prisoners were to be released in any case within the next three years.

Mr. Abbas has long demanded the release of prisoners who were convicted of crimes committed before the Oslo peace accord of 1993 took effect. They are widely viewed in Palestinian society as political prisoners, but most Israelis see them as terrorists.

Israel's Supreme Court heard petitions on Sunday by families of some of the victims who opposed the release of convicted Palestinians. Outside the courthouse, relatives of the victims held a small, quiet vigil.

One of them was Gila Molcho, the sister of Ian Feinberg, an Israeli lawyer who was bludgeoned to death by a Palestinian man wielding an ax in Gaza in 1993 while he was working on a project there. Ms. Molcho held a framed portrait of her brother, who was 30.

"Don't let them come home as heroes," she said of the prisoners to be released. "We will be left holding the pictures." Weeping, she added, "They are terrorists, not soldiers."

Abdel Aal Said Ouda Yusef, jailed since 1994 for throwing explosives and being an accessory to the killing of Mr. Feinberg and another man, appeared on the list of those to be released this week.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here