Israel Agrees to Free 104 Palestinian Prisoners as Part of Possible Deal to Restart Peace Talks

Madeleine Morgenstern

JERUSALEM (TheBlaze/AP) -- Israeli and Palestinian officials confirm that Israel's Cabinet has approved the release of 104 long-held Palestinian prisoners, clearing a hurdle toward a possible resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks after five years of paralysis.

Sunday's 13-7 vote with two abstentions came after a stormy session. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged ministers to approve the release, saying it's important for Israel to restart talks with the Palestinians.

Israel Agrees to Free 104 Palestinian Prisoners as Part of Possible Deal to Restart Peace Talks
Israel Agrees to Free 104 Palestinian Prisoners as Part of Possible Deal to Restart Peace Talks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged cabinet ministers to approve the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners as part of a deal to potentially restart peace talks. (Getty Images)

Two ministers of Netanyahu's Likud Party voted no, an official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

The Cabinet approved the release in four stages over several months, with each step linked to progress in the negotiations.

According to a list provided by the Palestinians, the prisoners have served between 19 and 30 years for involvement in deadly attacks on Israelis.

Some of those set to get out of prison were convicted of major terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of multiple Israeli victims. According to the Times of Israel, they will be "released in stages and some may be sent into exile."

The Times of Israel reports, "The issue of releasing the prisoners, jailed since before the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, has divided Israelis, many of whom see the freeing of convicted murderers and terrorists as a price too high to pay for a return to the talks. Others regard it as a necessary evil, meeting a Palestinian demand to enable a resumption of negotiations."

CAMERA - the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America - published a detailed list it obtained from Israel's Ministry of Justice of 118 pre-Oslo Palestinian prisoners (The list can be seen here). The additional prisoners above the 104 the Israeli government voted on are Arab citizens of Israel which the government decided on Sunday to exclude from the release.

In an article it published along with the list last month, CAMERA wrote: "All too often, mainstream media outlets have whitewashed the terrorist acts and violent crimes of Palestinian prisoners by failing to mention the crimes at all or by falsely minimizing the degree of violence. In some cases, media outlets euphemistically refer to prisoners incarcerated since before 1994 as 'political prisoners,' covering up the atrocities they carried out."

While the ministers were discussing the issue at their weekly cabinet meeting, a debate that was described as "bitter," families of terror victims held a demonstration to urge ministers to vote "No" (Video below).

At the start of Sunday's cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said the decision was for the "good of the country."

"This moment is not easy for me, and it isn't easy for the government ministers, and is certainly not easy for the bereaved families, whom I deeply understand," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu especially understands their position and referred to his brother Yoni who was killed while leading the commando operation in 1976 to rescue hostages in Entebbe from the hands of terrorists who had hijacked an airplane.

One of those set to be released is Jomaa Adam who was convicted of killing Rachel Weiss and her three small children as they were traveling to a family event in Tiberias in 1988.

"As the bus the family was riding passed the northern outskirts of Jericho, it was ambushed and set ablaze with three Molotov cocktails. Rachel (26) and her three boys Netanel (3), Rephael (2) and Efraim (9 months) were killed in the attack, as was IDF soldier David Delarosa who attempted to rescue the family," wrote The Times of Israel.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said of the Israeli cabinet vote, "I believe this is a step toward peace and I hope that we can use this opportunity that the U.S. has provided for us to resume negotiations."

Israeli media report that Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams will meet in Washington on Tuesday.

Here is video of the demonstration in Jerusalem on Sunday against the prisoner release, courtesy of the Tazpit News Agency:

Sharona Schwartz contributed to this story.

This post has been updated.

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