P.A. Prisoner Release a 'Cloud' over Mideast Talks

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israel's planned release of Palestinian prisoners who have murdered Israelis in exchange for coming to the negotiating table is like a "dark cloud" hanging over the peace process, an Israeli diplomat told CBN News

The prisoner release "raises a very dark cloud above the prospects for peace," said Ambassador Yoram Ettinger, former Israeli liaison to the U.S. Congress in Washington.

On Sunday, cabinet ministers approved a gradual release of 104 Palestinian Arab prisoners over the next nine months, most serving life sentences for murder.

Some analysts say releasing prisoners is less problematic for Netanyahu than publicly affirming a building freeze in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) or agreeing to the pre-1949 armistice lines as the basis for a future Palestinian state.

Though ministers voted for the release by 13-7 on Sunday, by Monday some were already warning about the consequences.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said he agreed with "a heavy heart" to approve the release. "We will pay a price in terms of deterrence," the former IDF chief of staff said.

Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yoram Cohen warned the released prisoners would pose "an immediate threat to public safety" and "an erosion of deterrence."

While the U.S. State Department and the Palestinian Authority applauded the decision, Israelis are very upset about it.

Very few have expectations that anything will come out of the resumption of talks anyway so it's as if the gesture is for nothing.

Two recent polls show an overwhelming majority of Israelis -- 84 percent in one poll and 95 percent in another -- oppose releasing prisoners serving long sentences for murder and other acts of terrorism.

Many Palestinian prisoners who have been released in the past return to plan and carry out terror attacks at the earliest opportunity.

At a press conference in Ramallah on Friday, P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas predicted Sunday would bring "good news" for prisoners. It is one of the P.A.'s three demands for resuming talks.

"Mahmoud Abbas is a person who embraces, rather than condemns, terrorists," Ettinger said, calling the prisoner release "recklessness on the part of the Israeli government that betrays the legacy of the Entebbe operation and provides a tailwind to future terrorists and future acts of terrorism."
 
On Saturday evening, Netanyahu issued an impassioned plea to the public explaining his position on the release. Nineteen of the 104 prisoners on the list hold Israeli citizenship.
 
Netanyahu called it "an incredibly difficult decision," but said "sometimes prime ministers are forced to make decisions that go against public opinion -- when the issue is important for the country." He indicated he had made the decision because of the overall situation with Iran and in the Middle East.

Among the prisoners being released are men serving four consecutive life sentences for the brutal murder of two teenagers, Lior Tubal and Ronen Karmani and two other Israelis. The boys accepted a ride from some local Arabs who gagged them, tied them up, and then beat and stabbed them to death and dumped their bodies in a valley.

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Tzippe Barrow

Tzippe Barrow

CBN News Internet Producer - Jerusalem

From her perch high atop the mountains surrounding Jerusalem, Tzippe Barrow helps provide a bird’s eye view of events unfolding in her country.

She and her husband made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) several years ago. Barrow hopes that providing a biblical perspective of today’s events in Israel will help people in the nations to better understand the centrality of this state and the Jewish people to God’s unfolding plan of redemption for all mankind.