Rather than arguing over the ‘gestures’ of releasing long-term prisoners, Israel must use restraint during arrests in the West Bank, while ensuring fair and swift procedures in the military courts.
(Translated by Ofer Neiman)
One of the main factors behind the failure of the recent round of Israeli-Palestinian talks was Israel’s decision to cancel the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners, which had been agreed upon as a goodwill gesture to the Palestinian Authority. The issue of prisoner release, whether in the framework of negotiations or in the framework of prisoner exchange deals, touches on very strong sentiments on both sides. For the Palestinians, the prisoners are members of their own people being held by a foreign occupier. For many Israelis, the prisoners are “bad people,” responsible for killing and injuring Israeli soldiers and Jewish citizens.
The release of prisoners, perceived by one side as the redemption of captives, is perceived by the other as gross injustice and even as a threat to one’s life. Accordingly, Palestinians have regarded the cancellation as sufficient grounds for terminating the talks; while in Israel previous rounds of prisoner release have brought about waves of protest and condemnation, culminating in a controversial bill aimed at preempting the future release of prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment.
Criminalizing an entire people
Negotiations on the issue of Palestinian prisoners tend to focus on a certain group of prisoners – those sentenced to lengthy terms, usually on the basis of convictions of grievous violence (the validity of these convictions and/or the gravity of the offenses are a bone of contention). All 78 prisoners released so far as part of gestures for the promotion of the talks in 2013 – 2014 belonged to this group (and the same holds for the 26 whose release was cancelled). Of 1,027 prisoners released as part of the Gilad Shalit deal in 2011, 434 had been sentenced to at least 20 years (including 275 cases of life imprisonment) – and this group was the focus of negotiations between Israel and Hamas.
Focusing on the aforementioned prisoners is only natural. They are the ones who have spent, or are expected to...Read More