Palestinian Authority (PA) negotiators had long declared that they would not return to U.S.-backed peace negotiations unless Israel committed to releasing prisoners linked to violence and terrorism. Israel committed to releasing 104 such prisoners, emphasizing that the move was a good will gesture aimed at restarting talks.
The list of the first wave of convicts to be released has already been published. All of the 26 prisoners were linked to the murder of Israelis. The gestures have generated predictable division inside Israel. Israeli outlets last week and this week outlined the often gruesome details behind why many of the prisoners were jailed.
The PA’s foreign ministry has responded to the controversial Israeli moves by distributing letters to dozens of ambassadors branding Israelis as terrorists and describing the Palestinian murderers as “political prisoner[s]” and “freedom fighters”:
One of the letters relayed by Palestinian ambassadors around the world was obtained by Haaretz. The letter, which was distributed by the Palestinian Embassy in Santiago, Chile, a day after the cabinet’s decision on the prisoner release, claimed that Israel is the one terrorizing the Palestinians, and not vice-versa. “A terrorist is someone who forcefully occupies the other’s land, expels him and comes to live in his place,” the letter read, “…not the Palestinian political prisoner, the freedom fighter.”…
The letter also says that “the Israelis are hiding the face of the Israeli terrorist, who forcefully occupies the land of the other people, expels them, destroys what makes up their everyday life and replaces them with foreign settlers. The international definition of terrorism completely befits some Israeli politicians, who distort the image of the freedom-fighting Palestinian prisoner, especially [the image] of those sitting in Israeli prisoners from before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.”
Other prisoners eventually set to be freed include Abu-Musa Salam Ali Atia, a Fatah member who murdered 67-year-old Holocaust survivor Isaac Rotenberg with an axe as the two set plaster at a construction site. The Times of Israel listed other grisly crimes committed by Fatah members, including the 1993 murder of 72-year-old Sirens Hotel security guard Israel Tenenbaum, who was beaten to death with a steel rod by Salah Ibrahim Ahmad Mugdad. The Jerusalem Post cataloged more crimes.
Four of the prisoners, also Israeli Arabs, were convicted over the “night of the pitchforks” attack. Three soldiers which they murdered three soldiers.
Othman Abdallah Bani Hasan and Haza’a Mohamed Sa’di, murdered school teachers Leah Elmakayis and Yosef Eliyahu, from Afula, while they were hiking.
It is unlikely that the PA’s celebration of the convicts as “freedom fighters” will smooth negotiations.
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