Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is willing to release 40 Palestinian prisoners convicted of terrorism against civilians, Israeli media reported Thursday quoting U.S. officials. The move – which would not be conditioned on any reciprocal Palestinian steps – is reportedly intended to convey Israel’s seriousness about returning to peace talks.
The offer is said to include the eventual release of up to 104 other prisoners, steps that would be taken once negotiations were underway.
Netanyahu and Secretary of State John Kerry are now waiting for a response to the offer from Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. Should he agree, the prisoners will be released over the coming weeks, during the Muslim holy period of Ramadan.
The 40 prisoners in question have been deemed by Israel’s Shin Bet security service to not represent a public danger, though they were originally convicted on terrorism charges. They could not enter Israel without special permission, as none are Israeli citizens or residents of East Jerusalem.
The gesture comes at a time when Abbas is under increasing pressure to respond to repeated Israeli calls to return to the negotiating table without preconditions.
In its lead story on Thursday, Yedioth Ahronoth quoted “foreign sources” to the effect that Abbas will be unable to withstand the growing pressure placed on him by Kerry, and will ultimately agree to return to talks. They also predicted, however, that he will shortly thereafter walk away, blast Israel for intransigence, and renew the PA campaign for recognition in various UN agencies.
Two months ago Abbas rejected an Israeli-American offer to free 60 prisoners in a bid to return to negotiations. Should he decline this offer as well, the sources said, Abbas will send a clear message that he is uninterested in returning to the negotiating table.
Almagor, an NGO representing terror victims and their families, blasted the new, reported offer. The group has presented Knesset Chairman Yudi Edelstein with a detailed breakdown of the crimes committed by the prisoners believed to be considered for release.
Among the prisoners include the killers of Prof. Menachem Stern, a 77-year-old world-renowned scholar of the Second Temple period. He was murdered in 1989 as he walked to work through the Valley of the Cross in West Jerusalem. Also on the list are the perpetrators of the 1992 kidnapping and murder of Border Policeman Nissim Toledano. He was killed in the Israeli city of Lod.
Below, Almagor head Meir Indor speaks to Israel’s English-language television last year: