Internal Gov't Opposition to PA Prisoner Release
Several ministers in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's cabinet have expressed strong opposition to an offer to release terrorist prisoners as a "goodwill gesture" to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The Prime Minister made the offer at his meeting with Abbas in Jerusalem on Monday.
According to a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister, Miri Eisin, Prime Minister Olmert offered to release certain PA prisoners during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins on Thursday.
In statements to the press following the Olmert-Abbas meeting, chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat confirmed that a mass release of PA prisoners was agreed upon. Prime Minister
"It's time... for the Palestinians to make gestures," Lieberman said.
Olmert and Abbas agreed to decide, in forthcoming PA-Israel meetings, the fate of 13 terrorists who were deported from Israel to Europe following a 2002 siege during which they desecrated the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Minister of Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) said that he and fellow Yisrael Beiteinu Minister Yitzchak Aharonovitch would oppose the measure. "It's time... for the Palestinians to make gestures," Lieberman said, "and to arrest wanted terrorists, confiscate weapons, and stop their violence."
Ministers from Shas said they would vote against the prisoner release, as well. Minister of Transportation Sha'ul Mofaz (Kadima) did not explicitly reject the idea of a prisoner release, but he warned, "Gestures need to be reversible, and must not endanger Israel’s security."
Other goodwill gestures made by Prime Minister Olmert to the PA Chairman on Monday include the offer to press the IDF to ease checkpoints and restrictions on travel in Judea and Samaria, as well as allowing PA residents to travel to Saudi Arabia for Ramadan pilgrimages. Olmert also told Abbas that Israel would not cut the electric power to Gaza, which some government ministers have raised as an option to combat ongoing PA rocket attacks on the city of Sderot.
The PA representatives at the Jerusalem meeting sought to renew PA-Israel security coordination. However, Israeli officials said only that they would "consider the matter."