Israel’s possible release this week of more Palestinian security prisoners as part of the deal to renew peace talks is deepening political divisions in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.
The Jewish Home party, which opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, tried to derail the release with a bill forbidding the freeing of prisoners convicted in attacks on Israelis. The faction, the government’s third largest, also stirred a heated debate with a barb at Israel’s chief negotiator.
Cabinet ministers today rejected the bill, which Finance Minister Yair Lapid deemed “very irresponsible and designed to score public relations points,” according to an e-mailed statement. Lapid’s Yesh Atid, the coalition’s second-biggest partner, supports the prisoner release and a peace agreement that would include a Palestinian state.
Environment Minister Amir Peretz accused Jewish Home of inciting violence with its opposition to the release and criticism of chief negotiator Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. Livni and Peretz’s Hatnua party also supports a peace agreement that will lead to a Palestinian state.
“This incitement and agitation are grave matters, and I hope the prime minister will bring the Jewish Home to order,” Peretz said in an interview with Army Radio. He likened it to the incitement that preceded the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist in 1995.
Jewish Home over the weekend released a text message criticizing “the freeing of terrorists so Tzipi Livni can have the dubious honor of meeting with” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Israel agreed in July to release 104 Palestinian security prisoners, some serving life sentences for deadly attacks on Israelis, in four rounds under a U.S.-brokered deal to restart talks that had broken down almost three years before. The first release of 26 prisoners took place in August, with the second scheduled to come as early as this week, pending approval by a ministerial committee and the High Court of Justice’s rejection of any legal challenges.
“We want to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said at today’s weekly cabinet meeting, according a text message from his office. “In this agreement, we will insist on the vital interests of the State of Israel, first of all security, of course, and including our ability to continue defending our eastern border.”
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