Israel to Release 26 Additional Terrorists

YERUSHALAYIM -

A legislative bid to prevent the release of additional Palestinian terrorist prisoners failed on Sunday after the government coalition mustered a majority in the Ministerial Law Committee to defeat the measure.

Later in the day, a committee headed by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu approved the list of 26 prisoners from the pre-Oslo period, said to include suicide bombers, to be set free on Tuesday.

The prisoner release is part of a deal made with the Palestinians to induce them to participate in the renewed peace negotiations. It will be the second group of 26 to be let go under the agreement.

Prime Minister Netanyahu avoided commenting on the contentious issue in public on Sunday but told Likud ministers that “promises must be kept.”

“We have to honor government decisions even if it is difficult and unpleasant; we can’t constantly change our stance,” Netanyahu said.

The split vote reflected the basic ideological differences within the coalition, as Jewish Home and Yisrael Beiteinu MKs supported the bill, while Likud and Yesh Atid MKs voted against it.

The ministers opposing the law explained that it would “limit the government’s freedom to act on diplomatic issues.”

Jewish Home, whose MK Orit Struk introduced the bill, issued a statement denouncing Sunday’s decision. The defeat of a law to prevent the release of terrorists, the party said, “is a sad day in the struggle against terror. We will continue to oppose such releases with all our might. We are surprised and shocked that Likud ministers did not support the law to end this disgrace.”

The schism led to mutual recriminations as Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz (Movement) accused Jewish Home of incitement, invoking the irresponsible rhetoric which filled the air prior to the assassination of former prime minister Yitzchak Rabin.

“What is happening in front of our eyes is the biggest dance of hypocrisy I’ve ever seen by a party,” Peretz told Army Radio. “On the one hand it sits within the government, and on the other hand it takes advantage of the convenience of being in the government to fulfill its objectives; participates in the vote on the prisoner release, and prevents any way of discussing another option,” he said, referring to Jewish Home’s refusal to go along with a building freeze to appease the Palestinians.

Pensioners Affairs Minister Uri Orbach (Jewish Home) defended the legitimacy of his party’s actions on Army Radio.

“We want to influence this government, and opposing a prisoner release is part of our influence,” Orbach said. “Amir Peretz’s cries … [and] incitement from Tzipi Livni will not silence us.”

Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked said, “We told the prime minister that we are against the release of terrorists. It’s immoral. No other country … does it…We release terrorists as a gesture [to Abbas] and he promotes a boycott against us?”