Releasing prisoners was a difficult but necessary and responsible decision,
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Monday, as MKs from all of the Knesset’s
Zionist parties argued over the issue throughout the day.
to free prisoners is one of the most difficult I made as prime minister,”
Netanyahu said in a Likud Beytenu faction meeting. “This decision was necessary
in our current reality. We have to navigate through a complex international
arena full of challenges.”
Twenty-six Palestinian security prisoners were
transferred Monday to Ofer Prison outside of Jerusalem, ahead of Tuesday’s
expected release. The release of the prisoners, who have been incarcerated for
at least two decades, is part of a pledge Israel made to the Palestinian
Authority this summer to help relaunch the negotiations.
thousands gathered outside of Ofer Prison to protest the planned
Netanyahu told the Likud Beytenu faction that he feels the pain
of families who have to experience “the injustice of scoundrels being freed
before serving their full punishment.”
In a thinly veiled message to
Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, the prime minister called on all
ministers to behave responsibly and exercise good judgment now that a decision
was already made.
Netanyahu’s comments follow days of arguing between
Bayit Yehudi and Hatnua over the prisoner release.
A small ministerial
committee approved on Sunday night the release, as part of a four-stage process
that will let 104 Palestinian prisoners leave jail.
Prisoners were also
freed in the first stage, that was carried out on August 26.
Five of the
prisoners will head to Gaza and 21 to the West Bank. They have all served
sentences of 19 to 28 years.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni accused Bayit
Yehudi of “hypocrisy, sanctimoniousness and dirty politics in an attempt to
“In the end, the truth comes to light,” Livni
declared. “We will fight for what we believe in, even if we have to do it in the
Bennett said Bayit Yehudi is facing an “unprecedented
“The last time I remember seeing such stigmatization was the way
Netanyahu was treated during the Oslo Accords,” Bennett stated. “They’re trying
to silence us and make us follow the herd. They call us
Bennett insisted that “it won’t work; we won’t be
silent. We will continue to oppose a Palestinian state in the heart of Israel, and we won’t allow gestures for the right to negotiate for a Palestinian
The Bayit Yehudi leader also thanked Yisrael Beytenu leader
Avigdor Liberman and his ministers for voting in favor of the bill meant to
prevent future prisoner releases.
Liberman skipped the Likud Beytenu
faction meeting, a day after all his party’s ministers had voted for the Bayit
Yehudi prisoner release bill. A coalition source said the vote, along with
support last week for legislation meant to stop negotiations to split Jerusalem,
is a preview of cooperation to come if Likud and Yisrael Beytenu part
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein warned that prisoners released this
week will commit more acts of terror.
“We stood for the principle of
negotiations without preconditions before this process began, but this morning
the names of arch-terrorists with blood on their hands were already publicized,”
Edelstein wrote on Facebook.
The Knesset speaker said the terrorists
being released killed “the best of our sons and citizens” – soldiers, teachers,
and even a Holocaust survivor.
“The Palestinians’ ‘gesture’ to us came
soon enough, and this morning rockets were shot at the South. That’s why we say
‘there is nothing new under the sun,’” he added.
According to Edelstein,
“unfortunately, past experience showed us that the day on which we will see
headlines stating that one of the released prisoners was involved in a terror
attack is not far.”
Labor faction chairman Isaac Herzog pointed out that
the debate over prisoner releases highlights tensions within the
“This is the theater of the absurd. Ministers are arguing,
some are almost blaming a minister [Livni] for murder, and the prime minister
stays quiet,” Herzog said. “The prime minister is not managing the
government. A week after the anniversary of [former prime minister
Yitzhak] Rabin’s assassination, the prime minister should say
Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) said of Bayit
Yehudi’s protestations that “the extreme Right is trying to stop talks before
they make any progress.”
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On said that “a
prisoner release is not about Bennett’s or Livni’s political future. It’s about
the fate of negotiations and the future of the State of Israel, and the time has
come for Bennett and Livni to stop publicly bickering, which brings them
political gain, and start acting.”
Gal-On called the government’s policy
of freeing prisoners while building in the West Bank “the leadership of Dr. Bibi
and Mr. Netanyahu,” an apparent reference to Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.