The government, in its Sunday morning weekly session, approved the release of 250 convicted Arab terrorists from prison, as a goodwill gesture to PA chief Abu Mazen.  Only terrorists without "blood on their hands" are to be released.

Some of the terrorists being freed attempted to murder Israelis but missed their targets.

Voting against the proposal were Transportation Minister Sha'ul Mofaz, the four Shas ministers (Yishai, Attias, Nahari and Yitzchak Cohen), and Tourism Minister Yitzchak Aharonovitch of Yisrael Beiteinu.  Yisrael Beiteinu leader Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman was not present, but voted in writing against the deal.

Shas ministers stated that if Arab terrorists are freed, Jews in prison for security-related crimes should also be released.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert admitted at the cabinet session that releasing the 250 terrorists will not convince Hamas and Hizbullah terrorists to free their IDF hostages. He explained that the move was a “good will” gesture to support Palestinian Authority Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas’s new government.

“I have come to the conclusion that releasing the prisoners will not affect the chances of bringing Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser home,” said Olmert. The families of all three captives are in France to attend a rally calling for the freedom of their loved ones, who were kidnapped in the south and north by terrorists last summer.  The families will meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Monday.

Minister Mofaz said the decision was pointless, in that "releasing 250 small-fry would not help Abu Mazen at all."  He predicted that in any event, Hamas and Fatah would re-unite within several months.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) at their summit in Sharm el-Sheikh two weeks ago that he would release the terrorists.  The Cabinet did not discuss the specific terrorists who are to be freed. 

The General Security Service (Shabak) provided Olmert with a list of terrorists that could be released, but Olmert returned the list.  He said it contained mostly terrorists who are to be freed within a short time in any event, and that releasing such terrorists would not help Abu Mazen.

Public Security Minister Avi Dichter agreed, saying that the release of terrorists whose jail terms end within 2-3 years would actually hurt the PA chief. Dichter also noted that “none of the gestures we made since 1994 (releasing terrorists in exchange for Israeli hostages, dead or alive) ever resulted in any PA action against terror.”

"My promise was given after a careful investigation and consultations," Olmert said. "I have no illusions that this very gesture will change the situation in the Middle East. However, we hope to be able to use every means that can strengthen and encourage the moderate elements in the Palestinian Authority, so that we can go in the direction of creating conditions of real dialogue."

This "strengthening the moderates" strategy has governed much of Israeli policy since the signing of the Oslo Accords with Yasser Arafat in 1993.  Ever since then, the Fatah terrorist organization has received guns and money that were used to murder hundreds of Israelis, has refused to change its charter calling for Israel's destruction, and has lost control of Gaza to Hamas.

Fatah Charter Article 15 states: "The liberation of Palestine, from an Arab viewpoint, is a national duty and it attempts to repel the Zionist and imperialist aggression against the Arab homeland, and aims at the liquidation of the Zionist presence in Palestine. Absolute responsibility for this falls upon the Arab nation - peoples and governments - with the Arab people of Palestine in the vanguard."

MK Effie Eitam (National Union) called upon Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu to quit the coalition following today's decision.  His party colleague MK Aryeh Eldad said that the release of the 250 terrorists "to the scarecrow Abu Mazen is political and ethical bankruptcy on the part of the Prime Minister."