'Israel won't use Schalit deal as gesture to Abbas'

550 prisoners, of Israel's choosing, to be released in second stage of deal expected to take place December 18.

Abbas R 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Abbas R 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The government plans to release Palestinian petty criminals later this month to complete the Gilad Schalit prisoner exchange, not any high-profile Fatah security prisoners as a gesture to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, officials said on Wednesday.
Under the Egyptian-mediated prisoner swap in October that led to Schalit’s release, 477 “heavy” security prisoners and terrorists whose names were agreed upon by Israel and Hamas were released in the first stage of the deal. Another 550 prisoners, of Israel’s choosing, will be released in the second stage, expected to take place on December 18.
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Numerous calls from world leaders have come into Jerusalem urging Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to use the opportunity to release Fatah prisoners and build up Abbas’s stature on the Palestinian street. Because of Abbas’s continued refusal to enter into direct talks with Israel – unless Jerusalem stops all construction beyond the Green Line – those entreaties are for the most part falling on deaf ears.
“We will release car thieves, not make any gestures to Abbas,” one government official said. He said that the list of prisoners to be released is being drawn up by the Justice Ministry, and will be approved by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Government sources said that with Abbas continuing to stay away from the talks and waging an aggressive diplomatic campaign against Israel throughout the world, there is no reason at his point to reward him with any goodwill gestures.
The first phase of the Schalit deal on October 18 led to an immediate boost for Hamas’s popularity, leading some to argue that Netanyahu went through with the swap to harm Abbas in retaliation for his statehood bid at the UN in September.
Government sources, however, have denied the charge. One senior official said that while getting back at Abbas was not the reason for the deal, Netanyahu – because of Abbas’s policies – did not feel bound to take into consideration what this would do to his overall position.
The official said had the Palestinian leader not gone to the UN and not continued to refuse to return to talks, more consideration would likely have been given before the deal to how it would affect Abbas.