A Palestinian woman holds a photograph of a prisoner on hunger strike during a rally
A Palestinian woman holds a photograph of a prisoner on hunger strike during a rally in the West Bank city of Hebron to show solidarity with prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, in February. Photo by Reuters
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Letter distributed by Palestinian envoys.
A copy of a letter distributed by the Palestinian embassy in Santiago, Chile.

Over the past two weeks, since the Israeli government decided to release 104 pre-Oslo Palestinian prisoners, the Palestinian Authority has been conducting a political and PR campaign focused on this issue. Palestinian ambassadors around the world were asked to relay letters to foreign ministries in the countries where they are serving, which emphasize that contrary to Israeli's claim, the prisoners are not terrorists.

Late on Sunday night an Israeli ministerial committee approved a list of 26 Palestinian prisoners who are slated to be released ahead of the resumption of the peace talks.

All of the inmates on the list were involved in the murder of Israelis. Nine were set to complete their sentences within three years. The inmates are to be transferred into the Palestinian Authority's territory on Tuesday night – 48 hours after their identities are revealed. Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams are scheduled to meet in Jerusalem the next day.

Considering the ministers met late at night, it seems the Prime Minister's Office is seeking to avoid wide coverage of the release in Monday morning's newspapers, detailing the prisoners' names and crimes. Moreover, it seems that Netanyahu's office is trying to make sure that from the time the list is published, no more than 48 hours will be allocated for High Court petitions against the release, as required by law. In addition, the prisoners' release on Tuesday night may be an Israeli attempt to avoid the spectacle of festive receptions.

Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said that the prisoners to be released in the first phase will be those whose "risk level" was classified by the Shin Bet as "low." In the next phases, the more dangerous prisoners will be released, and Israel will request they be deported to the Gaza Strip.

PR campaign

One of the letters relayed by Palestinian ambassadors around the world was obtained by Haaretz. The letter, which was distributed by the Palestinian Embassy in Santiago, Chile, a day after the cabinet's decision on the prisoner release, claimed that Israel is the one terrorizing the Palestinians, and not vice-versa. "A terrorist is someone who forcefully occupies the other's land, expels him and comes to live in his place," the letter read, "…not the Palestinian political prisoner, the freedom fighter."

The letter from embassies around the world also criticized senior Israeli officials for defining prisoners as terrorists. For example, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett is quoted as saying that terrorists should be eliminated, not put in prison. After his comments from the cabinet meeting were made public, Bennett clarified that he did not mean the prisoners should be killed after their arrest.  

"The [Palestinian] Foreign Ministry strongly condemns the Israeli statements and positions and sees them as a diversion attempt aimed at drawing attention from the accusation against the true Israeli criminals," the letter says. "They distort the image of the Palestinian freedom fighter, who struggles against the occupation and fights in accordance to international law."

The letter also says that "the Israelis are hiding the face of the Israeli terrorist, who forcefully occupies the land of the other people, expels them, destroys what makes up their everyday life and replaces them with foreign settlers. The international definition of terrorism completely befits some Israeli politicians, who distort the image of the freedom-fighting Palestinian prisoner, especially [the image] of those sitting in Israeli prisoners from before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993."