Cabinet to vote on prisoner release

Justice Ministry reviewing list; French, British foreign ministers set to arrive over the weekend.

cabinet 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
cabinet 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The cabinet will vote on Monday on a proposal to release several hundred Palestinian security prisoners as a goodwill gesture to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ahead of the Annapolis peace conference. Justice Ministry Director-General Moshe Shilo on Thursday began reviewing the list of hundreds of names of detainees drawn up by the Palestinians whom they would like to see released. No final decision has been made on exactly how many prisoners will be set free, although Israeli sources said those being released would not have participated in terrorist attacks in which Jews were killed. No Hamas and Islamic Jihad detainees are being released. In contrast to previous prisoner releases, this time no residents of the Gaza Strip - including Fatah members - will be set free. After the list is finalized and published there will be a 48-hour period to enable legal appeals before the detainees are released. Although Washington has still not confirmed the date of the Annapolis gathering - expected to take place towards the end of the month - the coming days will witness a flurry of diplomatic activity as planning for the conference swings into top gear. The cabinet meeting is being moved back a day from its traditional Sunday to allow cabinet members to attend a memorial for David Ben-Gurion. Already in Jerusalem for talks Thursday were two senior Russian envoys. Over the weekend the foreign ministers of both France and Britain are due. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov and Russia's Quartet envoy Sergei Yakovlev that Annapolis was an important launching pad after seven years of deadlock. "Stagnation does not serve either party. Fulfilling the security conditions serves our common interest," Livni said. She also urged Russia to exert its influence in the Arab world to broaden support for the peace process, including among Arab states which do not have diplomatic relations with Israel. "The more the Arab states will be partners to the process and take steps to advance normalization with Israel by stages, the stronger the peace process will be and the greater the progress achieved," Livni told the Russian envoys. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner will visit Israel and the West Bank on Saturday and Sunday. Cordial discussions are expected following Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's recent trip to Paris, which ushered in a new chapter in Franco-Israeli relations after years of disagreements. France will host a Palestinian donors' conference following Annapolis, together with Norway and Quartet envoy Tony Blair. Kouchner will hold a working dinner with Blair and Norwegian Foreign Minister Jona Gahr-Stoere on Friday before he departs for the region. Unlike Kouchner, for British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband, Saturday's visit will be his first trip to the region. Israel's relations with Britain are also very warm at this juncture and Israeli officials view Miliband's visit as adding an additional layer to the relationship. During the visit, Miliband will be briefed on central issues of the peace process, with the emphasis on British initiatives regarding the economic road map. Miliband held talks with Livni in New York last month. He is the son of the late Ralph Miliband, a Jewish refugee to Britain from Belgium, and a leading Marxist writer.