Israel will release 26 low-risk Palestinian prisoners on Tuesday, ahead of the Palestinian Authority-Israel peace talks next week. Late Sunday evening, an Israeli ministerial committee approved and published the names of the Palestinian detainees to be released. The 26 will be the first of 104 that Israel has pledged to release following six months of shuttle diplomacy by John Kerry. The Israeli government has claimed that this release is a massive concession and necessary for peace talks.
News of the prisoners' release was greeted with horror by sections of Israeli society. Almagor, a terror victims support group, have claimed that the Israeli government has caved in to the terrorists for agreeing to this deal. "This is a day of celebration for the Palestinian terror organizations, and a sad day for bereaved families and for Israeli society," said Meir Indor head of Almagor.
Palestinian human rights groups have lambasted the idea that this is a major concession. As close examination of the names revealed, that most of the detainees have already served 20 years behind bars. They had between six months to three years left before they were due to have been released, irrespective of the peace talks. Fuad Al-Khafsh, the director of Ahrar Center for Prisoner Studies and Human Rights, said the list was "disappointing for the detainees, their families and the Palestinian people generally, because it did not rely on the principle of seniority."
According to Palestinian prisoner rights group Addameer, Israel holds a total of 5,071 Palestinian political prisoners. That includes 136 in administrative detention (held indefinitely, without charge or being able to see the charges against them), 193 children of which 41 are under 16, and 12 female prisoners. None of these mentioned are amongst the 26 to be released, despite the fact that their detention is illegal under international law. In addition to this, Israel has also announced the building of 1,200 new homes in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The settlements, which are also illegal under international law, have been a traditional saw point in negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Publicly the PA opposes the settlement expansion. Privately, they have largely accepted them, as the Palestine Papers have shown. The trouble is that the refusal to release the political prisoners who are illegally detained — and the building of new settlement homes — shows that Israel is not serious about peace.
Former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Ebon once said, "You make peace by talking to your enemies not your friends." Israel is already at peace with the PA, the Israeli government controls and pays salaries to PA officials. It is Hamas and other Palestinian factions that Israel is at war with. But they are not having peace talks with them, which means that not only is the prisoner release a token, but the talks themselves are a token too. The names of the 78 remaining prisoners to be released have not yet been announced, but for Palestinians, their release and the peace talks that follow are meaningless.