According to two ministers present at the government meeting Sunday where the cabinet discussed the possibility of releasing 104 Palestinian prisoners ahead of negotiations, Cohen said, "Entering negotiations with the Palestinians has a certain calming effect on the ground in Judea and Samaria, especially among operatives associated with the Palestinian Authority like the Fatah's Tanzim members."
On the other hand, Cohen warned, releasing prisoners could diminish Israel's state security, as those who are released might return to violence, and the country's deterrence may be impaired.
The Shin Bet chief was not asked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or any one of the ministers to express his views for or against the cabinet's decision to release security prisoners who had murdered Israelis.
Cohen told ministers that Netanyahu had notified him last week of his decision to release 104 prisoners who were incarcerated before the Oslo Accords, as part of an understanding with the United States ahead of renewed talks with the Palestinians. He added that Netanyahu had asked the Shin Bet to rank the prisoners and to recommend to government who should be released in each of the four phases (which had been decided on in advance).
According to Cohen, most of the prisoners in question are murderers "with blood on their hands," hailing from all factions and areas. He said that the Shin Bet passed its recommendations on to Netanyahu's military secretary.
"We mainly examined the potential danger these prisoners could pose to public security in the future," he said.
At the meeting, Cohen also said he passed on to Netanyahu recommendations on how to minimize the threat of releasing prisoners. One such recommendation was not to release some prisoners at all, while another was to release some to the Gaza Strip or to another country.
These and other recommendations will be discussed by a special ministerial committee on prisoners headed by Netanyahu. Other committee members will include Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitz and Science and Technology Minister Jacob Perry.
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