JERUSALEM, Israel -- For the second time in as many months, Israel is set to free convicted Palestinian terrorists as a gesture to keep Palestinians in peace talks with Israel. The second prisoner release is scheduled to take place between Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, with emotions running high on both sides.
Releasing convicts serving life sentences for murder is no light matter in a nation that has seen far too many people killed in terror attacks. Israelis who've lost loved ones -- even prior to the Oslo Accords -- don't want to see those responsible set free to resume daily life after serving partial sentences.
In every prisoner release, leaders of both Palestinian factions -- Fatah in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) -- and Hamas, primarily in the Gaza Strip -- use the event as proof of their ability to gain concessions from Israel. The freed prisoners are always welcomed home as heroes.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, aware of the rift in his government and the country as a whole, calls it "one of the toughest decisions" he's had to make as prime minister.
"The decision to release prisoners is one of the most difficult I have had to make as prime minister," Netanyahu said. "I am sure that all other prime ministers who have made such decisions thought about them long and hard, as I did, because of the injustice of the whole thing, with convicted murderers being released before completing their sentences."
"My heart is with the bereaved families and it pains me," he said, calling it "a necessity given the reality in which we live," a reference to the diplomatic process with the Palestinian Authority.
An agreement between Israel and the P.A. will see a total of 104 convicts set free in a four-staged release, the first of which took place in late August.
Meanwhile, political analyst Khaled Abu Toameh says the P.A.'s Mahmoud Abbas is focused on delegitimizing Israel on an international scale, which, he says, some are calling a "diplomatic intifada."
Last week, Abbas met with a number of European leaders to convince them to implement the E.U.'s decision to boycott Israeli businesses and institutions beyond the pre-1967 armistice lines without delay.
Abbas, he says, wants the international community to blame Israel should the latest round of peace negotiations fail and in doing so, force the Jewish state to give in to P.A. demands.
"With such an intifada raging against Israel, it is hard to see how the peace talks could ever result in an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians," Toameh wrote. "Abbas obviously does not believe that the talks will produce an agreement. That is why his strategy these days is, with the help of the international community, to try to impose a solution on Israel."