The government voted Sunday in favor of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyhau's plan to release 104 terrorist prisoners from jail, as a gesture that will accompany the reopening of “peace talks” with the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The identities of the prisoners will be determined by a committee of ministers that will be headed by Netanyahu, and will include Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Minister of Public Security Yitzhak Aharonovich and Minister of Science Yaakov Perry, a former Shin Bet head.
The decision was passed with a majority of 13 ministers in favor, seven opponents and two who abstained.
Voting in favor of the decision, besides Netanyahu, were Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, Minister of Interior Gideon Saar, Minister of Public Security Yitzhak Aharonovich, Minister for Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz, and Aliyah Minister Sofa Landver (Likud / Yisrael Beytenu); Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Education Minister Shai Piron, Health Minister Yael German, Science Minister Yaakov Perry and Welfare Minister Meir Cohen, (Yesh Atid); as well as Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and Environment Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnua).
Voting against it were Transport Minister Yisrael Katz, Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, Tourism Minister Uzi Landau, and Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, all (Likud / Yisrael Beytenu); as well as Economics Minister Naftaliu Bennett, Housing Minister Uri Ariel and Minister for Pensioners Uri Orbach, (Bayit Yehudi).
Energy Minister Silvan Shalom and Culture Minister Limor Livnat, both of Likud / Yisrael Beytenu, abstained.
Prior to the vote, Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party head Naftali Bennett warned that the government is on a slippery slope vis-a-vis terrorist releases.
In the past, he noted, Israel released a single terrorist in exchange for a living soldier. Then it released hundreds of terrorists for a living soldier, then terrorists for a dead soldier. Now, Bennett lamented, the government is releasing terrorists merely for "a process.”
“We are teaching the world that with us, everything is up for trade,” he said.
Bennett said that a process like this will eventually lead to the release of the murderers of the Fogel family, and asserted that restarting "peace talks" may cause more harm than good.
He noted that when the Oslo accord was signed, there were also promises of peace, but that it eventually resulted in suicide attacks that began in the years that immediately followed it. The Camp David summit between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat resulted in over 1,000 killed. However now, when there is no “peace process,” there is relative quiet, he noted.
"Are we crazy?"
Bennett added that if the government votes “no,” the message will be one of great national pride. He called upon ministers to stop saying that unless a Palestinian state is established, Israel is doomed.
“Are we crazy? Israel will prosper without a Palestinian state, as well. And this is certainly no way to negotiate,” he determined.
Minister Uri Orbach (Bayit Yehudi) had said that he would vote against the release because “There is no need to pay in such hard cash for faulty merchandise in whose value I do not believe.”
Orbach compared the "peace process to" the ancient pagan idol Molech (whose worshippers offered it human sacrifices) "that has to be fed constantly... yet is never sated."
Transport Minister Yisrael Katz said that the prisoner release would hurt the bereaved families, runs counter to the values of mutual responsibility and will weaken Israeli society.
“This is encouragement of terror and a blow to the security forces, who have often risked their lives to catch the murderers,” he noted.
Minister Katz said that the decision is particularly bad because no Israeli captives are being freed, and the terrorists are being set loose “just so [Mahmoud Abbas] consents to talk to us for nine months.”
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud) said that the release of the terrorists constitutes “a prize to terror and a blow to the state's strength and deterrence.”
"The detestable terrorists will be the summer stars of the Palestinian children,” he said. “They will go from stage to stage, their pictures will hang in the streets, the Palestinian leadership will celebrate with the murderers all night and in the morning it will enter the negotiating room with us.”
MK Eli Yishai (Shas) said that the release will endanger Jews, and could lead to the abduction of citizens and soldiers. Carrying it out just to receive an initial agreement to negotiate is “wrong and dangerous,” he said.
Deputy Education Minister Avi Wortzman (Bayit Yehudi) called the decision “terrible,” and MK Nisan Slomiansky of the same party slammed it as “an incomparable shame.”
Coalition Chairman Yariv Levin (Likud) called the decision “wrong and immoral” and said that the government had fallen into “a transparent trap.”