Palestinian prisoner release passes cabinet by wide 13-7 margin

After nearly 6 hour meeting, cabinet votes to renew talks with Palestinians including release of 104 Palestinian terrorists in 4 stages over 9 months; cabinet also approves bill to bring peace deal to national referendum.

Netanyahu at cabinet meeting 370 (photo credit: Koby Gideon/GPO)
Netanyahu at cabinet meeting 370
(photo credit: Koby Gideon/GPO)
The cabinet on Sunday voted to approve negotiations with the Palestinians including the release of 104 Palestinian terrorists in stages over the next nine months as part of diplomatic negotiations.
The measure passed at the end of a nearly six hour cabinet meeting by the vote of 13-7, with two abstentions.
The ministers voting against included Likud ministers Gilad Erdan and Yisrael Katz, Yisrael Beytenu ministers Yair Shamir and Uzi Landau, and Bayit Yehudi ministers Naftali Bennett, Uri Ariel and Uri Orbach. Likud ministers Silvan Shalom and Limor Livnat abstained.
Those who voted for the proposal were Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Yuval Steinitz, Moshe Ya'alon and Gideon Sa'ar from the Likud, Sofa Landver and Yitzhak Aharonovitch from Yisrael Beytenu, Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid, Yael German, Yaakov Peri, Shai Piron, Meir Cohen, and Hatnua's Tzipi Livni, and Amir Peretz. 
"This moment is not easy for me, for the ministers, and especially not for the bereaved families, whom I understand very well," Netanyahu said during the cabinet meeting. "But there are times when difficult decisions must be made for the good of the state, and this is one of those times."
The cabinet on Sunday also approved the draft of a bill mandating a national referendum if an accord with the Palestinians is reached that necessitates withdrawals from part of Jerusalem or land swaps. The bill will be brought to the Knesset for a vote on Wednesday.
"Any agreement, if it is achieved in negotiations, will be brought as a referendum. It is important that every citizen will directly vote on fateful decisions like these that determine the future of the state," Netanyahu said during the meting.
The only two ministers to oppose the bill were Livni and Peretz.
The bill, which is to be a basic law, will essentially say that any change in the status of territories where Israeli law applies will have to be brought before the country in the form of a referendum after the move passes the government and the Knesset.
The bill does not, however, call for a referendum on an agreement that calls for the transfer of any parts of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians, although there is some talk now of perhaps legislating a bill to that regard as well.
Under the bill the cabinet approved Sunday, for instance, the disengagement from Gaza would not have had to come before the country for approval, nor would any future decision to uproot settlements in the West Bank as part of an accord that did not include altering the status of Jerusalem or involve any "land swap".
The vote on the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture ahead of renewed peace talks was delayed for several hours on Sunday morning as Netanyahu sought to secure enough support for the move, in the face of internal pressure from within his own Likud party.
In an attempt to neutralize the strong opposition within his party, Netanyahu made a distinction between Israeli Arab prisoners and other prisoners, saying a decision to release the former would be made separately and brought to an additional vote.
At the opening of the cabinet meeting the prime minister said that this was a tough day for him and for the families of victims killed by the terrorists on the list of prisoners intended for release. Despite that, he said, repeating the statement he made in an open letter to the citizens of Israel on Saturday, difficult decisions must be made "for the good of the nation."
The prime minister also said that a committee to be made up of himself, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, and Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, a former Shin Bet head, will be established to determine which prisoners will released, and when.