More than 100 Palestinian prisoners released as Israel clears way for peace talks in Washington

Netanyahu's 'tough decision for the good of the country' faces opposition even within his party

Jerusalem

More than a hundred Palestinian prisoners are to be released after Israel’s cabinet voted to authorise the move today, paving the way for the first direct peace talks between the two sides for three years.

The issue of Palestinian prisoners is a controversial one for both sides in the conflict. While most Israelis view them as terrorists, many Palestinians consider them heroes detained unjustly, and securing their freedom has been a longstanding aim.

Following hours of debate today, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced that a majority of the cabinet had agreed on the release. At the start of the meeting, Mr Netanyahu said that while the decision to release the prisoners was “very painful,” it would lead to a process that, “will last at least nine months with the aim of examining whether it is possible in this period to achieve an agreement with the Palestinians.”

A total of 104 prisoners will be released. The majority have been behind bars since before the Oslo Peace Accord of 1993, which ultimately collapsed.

Following the announcement of the release, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, confirmed that negotiators from both sides would meet on Tuesday.

Many in Israel see Mr Netanyahu’s decision to press for the release of the prisoners, most of whom have convictions for murder and organising terror attacks against Israeli civilians, as a step too far. The cabinet meeting itself was delayed for more than an hour after the prime minister meet with senior members of his own Likud party to try and convince them to back his proposals.

Later, Mr Netanyahu said: “This moment is not easy for me. It is not easy for the ministers. It is not easy especially for the families, the bereaved families, whose heart I understand. But there are moments in which tough decisions must be made for the good of the country and this is one of those moments.”

The right-wing members of Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet made no pretence of backing the measure. Speaking before the cabinet meeting, the economy minister and leader of the Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, said that his bloc would not vote with Mr Netanyahu. “Terrorists must be killed, not released,” he said. “In every one of my previous positions, I fought against releasing terrorists, and I have no intention of acting any differently when I’m in the cabinet. Let my hand be cut off should I vote in [favour] of releasing terrorists. We support the peace process, but no country in the world would agree to release murderers as a gift.”

Thirteen ministers voted in favour of the prisoner release, seven voted against and two abstained. Tzipi Livni, Israel’s justice minister who is also in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians, said that convicted murderers will only be released, “if the talks are serious”.

Ms Livni is now expected to travel to Washington where she will begin face-to-face talks with the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat. It will be the first time the two sides have met since 2010. The initial meeting will discuss the agenda and timetable for the talks. Mr Erekat today welcomed the Cabinet vote as “a step toward peace.”

Israel has a history of releasing Palestinian prisoners, including those involved in attacks. In 2011, it exchanged some 1,000 Palestinians for a single Israeli soldier held by Gaza militants.

The other issues that are likely to dominate initial discussions are Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and the borders of any eventual Palestinian state. Israeli officials insist on the country being recognised by the Palestinians as a Jewish state.

Groups representing the families of bombing victims slammed the move, and adverts condemning the decision were taken out in some Israeli newspapers. Mr Netanyahu is politically savvy however, and the move may ultimately strength his hand during negotiations. Having made the concession to the Palestinians, it will be difficult for them to walk away from the negotiating table. It will also realistically prevent the Palestinian Authority from seeking further recognition at the United Nations.

The Israeli cabinet also backed a proposal to put any eventual peace deal to the Israeli population in a referendum.

The prisoners: Going free

Abu Na’ame Abrahim Mahmus Samir

The then 26 year-old was convicted in 1986 of blowing up a bus in Jerusalem. Six people were killed when the explosive device he had helped to prepare was detonated. He is serving a life term.

Agbariya Hassan Mohammed

Jailed in 1992, Mohammed was a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad who infiltrated an Israeli army base before killing three soldiers. He was sentenced to three life terms at the age of 24.

Kamal Awad Ali Ahmad

Currently serving 16 life terms, Ahmad was convicted of torturing and murdering 15 people in the West Bank. He was also convicted of murdering an Israeli soldier. He was jailed in 1993.

Damouni Saad Mahmed Ahmed

Aged 22 in 1990 when he was arrested, Ahmed – a member of Hamas’s military wing in the Gaza Strip, was convicted – along with others, of lynching an Israeli soldier.

Ahmed Mahmed Jameel Shahada

Shahada was sentenced to a 47 year term in 1989 for the rape and murder of a 13 year-old Israeli boy. The boy was killed by being beaten on the head with an Iron bar.

Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
Sport
Angel Di Maria poses with Louis van Gaal after signing for Manchester United
sport
News
peopleGerman paper published pictures of 18-month-old daughter
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush
musicReview: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Life and Style
tech
News
people
Voices
voices
Sport
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
News
peopleJustin Bieber accuses paparazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
News
Ukrainian Leonid Stadnik, 37, 2.59 meter (8,5 feet) tall, the world's tallest living man, waves as he poses for the media by the Chevrolet Tacuma car presented to him by President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko in Kiev on March 24, 2008.
newsPeasant farmer towered at almost 8'5'' - but shunned the limelight
News
Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in ‘The Front Page’, using an old tech typewriter
media
Life and Style
Could a robot sheepdog find itself working at Skipton Auction Mart?
techModel would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Job

£5k: Test Recruiter for iJobs: Job London (Greater)

Head of Marketing - Pensions

£65000 - £75000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

SEN (Visual Impairement) Tutor

£120 - £180 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are looki...

School Receptionist

£70 - £100 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: School Receptionist - Part ...

Day In a Page

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis