Israel published the list of 26 Palestinian prisoners on the same night it approved building nearly 1,200 more homes in Yehudah and Shomron Sunday. The announcement came after three hours of deliberations by the special committee.
The special ministerial committee was comprised of Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Minister of Public Security Yitzhak Aharonovitz and Science Minister Yaakov Peri. They confirmed after midnight the list of 26 Palestinian prisoners to be freed, the first round in the release of a total of 104 prisoners Israel agreed to free with the return of the Palestinians to the negotiating table.
Among the 26 to be freed are terrorists with blood on their hands, who took part in terrorist attacks against Israelis.
It took almost three hours, from 9 o’clock in the evening until after midnight, to formulate the list. Some saw the timing of the meeting as an effort to beat newspaper deadlines and avoid high-profile news coverage of the announcement, which would upset many in Israel.
During the meeting some ministers suggested expelling some of the released prisoners out of the region, but the proposal was annulled when it came to light that Netanyahu promised Kerry that the released prisoners will return to their homes and neither one shall be required to migrate to other places.
Many Israelis are actively protesting the prisoner release; the most vocal protests came from relatives of those killed in attacks carried out by Palestinians slated for release.
Bereaved relatives held up large photos of their loved ones during a Supreme Court hearing on an appeal against the upcoming release. “Why are we releasing butchers now? What for?” asked Gila Molcho, whose brother, lawyer Ian Feinberg, was stabbed to death by Palestinians who broke into a European aid office in Gaza City in 1993.
Israelis and Palestinians are to launch talks on Wednesday in Jerusalem, following a preparatory round two weeks ago in Washington. The U.S. envisions an agreement within nine months on the terms of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, including drawing a border, agreeing on security arrangements and deciding the fate of Palestinian refugees.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas long insisted he will only resume talks if Israel freezes construction. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rejected a freeze. Abbas, under pressure from Kerry, eventually dropped it as a condition for talks.
In exchange, Kerry won Israeli agreement that it will release 104 Palestinian prisoners serving long sentences, many for involvement in killing Israelis.
Meanwhile, Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel announced Sunday that he has given final approval for the construction of 1,187 apartments in settlements. Nearly 800 are in east Jerusalem.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said the construction was approved in areas that Israel expects to retain in any future peace deal. “There is no way it changes the final map of peace,” he said. “It changes nothing.”
The Palestinians responded angrily, but stopped short of walking away from the negotiations. (With reporting by AP)