Amid heavy debate, the Israeli government has voted to free 104 Palestinian terrorists. The move is seen as a jump-start for peace negotiations designed to appease international powers. 

The Israeli government has voted to release 104 Palestinian terrorists if the Palestinian Authority agrees to return to the negotiating table with Israel. The decision passed with a majority of 13 ministers in favor, with seven opposing and two abstentions. Insiders say the decision weighed heavily on Israeli leadership due to the many conflicting Israeli and international interests at stake.

Among them is the heavy international pressure on Israel to release the terrorists as a gesture for peace. If Israel had not agreed, it is likely that members of the international community would have accused her of stalling peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. In what many see as a double standard, Israel is expected to make heavy concessions and by refusing to release convicted terrorists to jump-start negotiations would be accused of being an obstacle to peace. This despite the fact that blatant anti-Israel and anti-peace broadcasts on Palestinian Authority TV leading up to peace negotiations is not, these observers say, construed as an obstacle to peace by many world powers.

Nearly 85 percent of the Israeli public opposes releasing known terrorists to jump-start negotiation, with leaders across the political spectrum saying it will do nothing to bring about true peace and is a security risk for Israel. As recent history demonstrates, many released Palestinian terrorists do return to terror. “The chance that the prisoners will go back to terrorism is relatively large,” says Shin Bet Director Yoram Cohen. “Their release will damage security, both in terms of immediate threat to public safety and in terms of an erosion of deterrence.”

For these reasons, the majority of the ministers in the Israeli government who voted in favor of releasing these terrorists did so with a heavy heart. As Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon described the decision: “There is a heavy price to be paid in releasing terrorists in terms of justice, law and deterrence. I wish we were not facing this dilemma.”

Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz put it this way: “I support the prime minister’s proposal, not because I think it’s a fantastic idea – to say the least – but because I think that in an international view, the Israeli government cannot be seen as one that rejects entering negotiations.”

However, the dissenting Israeli ministers did not agree that international sentiment is sufficient reason to release Palestinian terrorists. As Israeli Minister Naftali Bennett said, “Terrorists should be killed, not released … we are teaching the world that with us, everything is up for trade. This is certainly no way to negotiate.”

Transport Minister Yisrael Katz called the release “encouragement of terror and a blow to the security forces, who have often risked their lives to catch the murderers” and Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon predicted “the detestable terrorists will be the summer stars of the Palestinian children. 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.” In addition, Coalition Chairman Yariv Levin (Likud) called the decision “wrong and immoral” and maintains the government had fallen into “a transparent trap.”

But at the end of day Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu spoke for the majority of the ministers. “This is a tremendously difficult decision to make. It hurts the bereaved families, it hurts the entire nation of Israel and it hurts me very much. It collides with an exceedingly important value – the value of justice. It is a clear injustice when evil people are released before the end of their sentences, even if an absolute majority among them has served over 20 years in jail. The decision is doubly personally difficult for me, because I and my family know personally the price of bereavement from terror. I know the pain well. I have felt it on a daily basis for the past 37 years.”

By Rachel Avraham, staff writer for United With Israel