Women hold up pictures of Palestinian prisoners 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Majed Jaber)
Three of the five ministers authorized by the cabinet two weeks ago to draw up the list of 26 prisoners to be released in four stages over the next nine months of negotiations met late Sunday night to come up with the names. Once the names are published, the public will have 48-hours to appeal the release.
Officials on Sunday night confirmed that 26 of the 104 pre-Oslo Palestinian prisoners will be released before Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat meet Wednesday in Jerusalem to begin talks.
Fourteen of the 26 Palestinian prisoners are to be released to the Gaza Strip, and the remaining 12 will go to the West Bank, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement close to midnight.
Eight of those to be released were in any event to be released over the next three years, with two of them up for release within the next six months.
The names of the prisoners will be published on the Israel Prisons Service website
after the families of the victims are notified of the pending release.
The meeting was chaired by Moshe Ya'alon (Likud), and also included Livni (Htnuah) and Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid) a former head of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet). Two other members of the committee were absent: Netanyahu, because of his operation, and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Israel Beytenu), who is abroad.
In addition, Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen, as well as representatives from the Israel Prison Service, the IDF and Justice Ministry took part in the deliberations. It was stressed during the meeting that any of the released prisoners arrested again for hostile action against Israel would be sent back to prison for the remainder of his original sentence.
Three days before the start of negotiations, and as Israel compiled a list of 26 Palestinian security prisoners to be released, Israel and the Palestinian Authority spared Sunday over government plans to build 1,187 homes
beyond the Green Line.
PA officials accused Israel of deliberately trying to torpedo the talks
by issuing tenders for construction of 793 new homes in Gilo, Har Homa and Pisgat Ze'ev in Jerusalem, and another 394 units in Ariel, Efrat, Ma'ale Adumim and Betar Illit. But Israeli officials noted that the announcement came on the day the government's ministerial committee went through the gut wrenching process of selecting which 26 terrorists to be released as part of the renewed diplomatic process.
"That decision, above all else, shows the seriousness with which we approach the current peace efforts," a senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said. "Saying that this construction negatively affects the map of peace is simply not serious." Nevertheless, PA negotiator Mohamed Shtayyeh, who is also a senior Fatah official, accused Israel of seeking to sabotage the two-state solution by proceeding with the plans. He said this proved that Israel was "not serious" about the negotiations, and urged the US to work toward halting the plans.
US special envoy Martin Indyk met in Ramallah Sunday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss developments prior to the scheduled start of the talks Wednesday in Jerusalem. A meeting Indyk scheduled for Monday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyhau was cancelled because of the premier's emergency hernia operation. He did, however, meet Sunday night with President Shimon Peres.
Even as Indyk was meeting Abbas, PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said there was "no need for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians because the Israelis are deliberately dealing one blow after the other to the international community and the US Administration" She charged that Israel alone bore responsibility for openly defying the the will of the international community and efforts to revive the peace process.
Palestinian legislator and political activist Mustafa Barghouti said that Israel was using the negotiations as a cover for pursuing "expansionist settlement projects." Barghouti said that the Israeli government was "in a race against time to impose facts on the ground and destroy the idea of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital." Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev dismissed the criticism, however. "The construction decided upon today in Jerusalem and in the settlement blocs are 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," he said.
One government official said that it was unreasonable to say that building in Jerusalem and in large settlements close to the Green Line – areas that he said would clearly remain a part of Israel in any final status accord – was preventing the peace process or blocking a two state solution.
The official declined to answer whether the US or the Palestinians had been informed in advance of the move, nor whether it was a "price" paid to the Bayit Yehudi party to keep them in the coalition despite their opposition to the prisoner release and a two state solution.
In a related development, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said after meeting Livni at the King David Hotel that negotiations were in the interest of the sides, the region and the world. He said Germany would play a "constructive and supportive" role.
Livni, in remarks to the press, alluded to the issue of the new EU settlement guidelines – an issue casting a cloud over EU-Israel relations – saying that Israel's borders would be determined in negotiations with the Palestinians, and not by the EU.
"Europe will not determine the border," she said. "I believe that once the negotiations begin, Europe will also understand that unilateral steps are not effective. They should let us and the Palestinians determine our borders, and not let the Israeli-Palestinian conflict influence the relations between Israel and Europe." Livni took part in a meeting chaired by Netanyahu on Thursday where it was decided that further clarifications on the settlement guidelines issue would be sought from the EU before deciding whether Israel would enter into negotiations with the EU over the lucrative Horizon 2020 R&D program.
Israel wants to get the political leadership in Europe to press EU bureaucrats in Brussels, who drew up the guidelines, to moderate them. Those guidelines forbid any EU funds from going to Israeli entities across the Green Line and call on Israel to sign a "territorial clause" before entering into any future EU agreements that would essentially renege any claim to east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights or the West Bank.