Israel expected to free more Palestinian prisoners this week

Vote to approve release possibly to take place Sunday; Netanyahu expected to block Bayit Yehudi bill against releases.

Palestinians protest for release of prisoners 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinians protest for release of prisoners 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A ministerial committee is expected this week, possibly as early as Sunday, to approve the release of a second group of Palestinian prisoners incarcerated for over 20 years for their involvement in terror attacks against Israelis.
Palestinian Authority Prisoners Affairs Minister Issa Qaraqi announced that the PA leadership was planning a reception ceremony on Tuesday night for 26 prisoners who would be freed by Israel.
Although it is a coalition member, the Bayit Yehudi Party on Sunday plans to ask the Ministerial Committee for Legislation to approve a bill that could block future releases.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to block any such attempt.
In July the cabinet approved the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners, 26 of whom were freed in August.
Israel agreed to release the prisoners in four batches over nine months, as a gesture to the Palestinian Authority to help create a positive climate for the renewed negotiation process, which began in July and is slated to end in March.
A small ministerial committee was formed in July to deal with the future releases. It includes Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Education Minister Yaakov Peri.
It is expected that it will meet on Sunday and then there is a 48 hour window before the release actually occurs, during which the names must be published and there is an opportunity for opponents to appeal to the High Court of Justice.
Right-wing politicians have urged Netanyahu not to approve any further releases in light of a spate of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis, including the death of two soldiers, one reservist and the wounding of a nine-year-old girl during an infiltration into the Psagot settlement.
On Saturday night, according to the IDF, eight Israelis were injured when stones were thrown at a bus in the South Hebron Hills.
A promise by Netanyahu to simultaneously approve new homes for West Bank settlements did not appease the right wing but only angered them.
An Israeli official said that both the United States and the Palestinians had been notified prior to the start of the negotiations that Israel planned to announce building during the talks. Netanyahu spoke of the matter with US Secretary of State John Kerry when the two men met in Rome.
The PA on Saturday denied that it had agreed to the continuation of settlement construction in return for the release of Palestinians from Israeli prisons.
PLO secretary-general Yasser Abed Rabbo told AFP that there was no link between the release of prisoners and the issue of settlements.
Abed Rabbo strongly condemned the Israeli government’s decision to pursue plans to build housing units in West Bank settlements and east Jerusalem neighborhoods on the eve of the release of the second group of Palestinian prisoners.
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi denied the reports about a “prisoner for settlement” deal. She said that the reports were fabricated.
She said that Abbas had only agreed to postpone plans to seek Palestinian membership in the UN General Assembly and other international agencies in return for the release of prisoners.
Meanwhile, Qaraqi said that Israel has not provided the PA with any information concerning the prisoners, including the identity of the inmates slated for release.
He pointed out, however, that the prisoners who would be released had been imprisoned before 1994.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Jordan on Friday at the end of a visit to Germany, Brussels, the Vatican and Lithuania.
Upon his arrival in Amman, Abbas met with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and briefed him on the outcome of his tour.
On Tuesday, a meeting of Quartet envoys, which represent the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia, is expected to be held in Jerusalem.