The Palestinian negotiating team’s acceptance of the Israeli demand that the Palestinian prisoners will be released on four different dates, depending on progress in the peace talks, has angered the families of the prisoners and Palestinian organizations, Haaretz has learned. Israel agreed to the release of prisoners who have been incarcerated since before the Oslo Accords as a gesture of goodwill ahead of the talks.
The vagueness surrounding the release of prisoners with Israeli citizenship is also a cause of concern, both to the families and to organizations such as the Palestinian Prisoner Society and the Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs, which usually accept the Palestinian Authority’s policies.
The disappointment was best expressed by Karim Younis of Kfar Ara, considered the longest-serving prisoner among Israeli Palestinians. In a personal letter sent recently to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership, Younis wrote that he and the other veteran prisoners never imagined that they would become a negotiating card. "We believed the position that you presented for years, according to which any renewal of the talks would necessitate the release of all veteran prisoners who were convicted before the Oslo Accords, without any division or postponement, and that the release would be in one stage,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, today, after 20 years of fruitless negotiations that led to no practical results, we are sinking back into a labyrinth of Israeli evasiveness and geographical distinction."
Younis added that predicating the extra three release dates on the progress of the negotiations, “while Israel is trying to set obstacles to any future agreement,” raised questions about the liklihood of any future prisoner release and the implementation of the three additional release steps.
Younis, who is still a member of Fatah, called on the Palestinian leadership to reconsider its agreement to renew the talks under the present conditions and raised doubts as to whether, after failing for 20 years, the Palestinian negotiating team could still continue to have the trust of the Palestinian public.
Palestinian Prisoner Society president Kadoura Pharis told Haaretz that he had also received Younis' letter, which represented the position of the prisoners, and that he had no reservations as to its contents. "I agree with every word. Karim has been following the negotiations from even before Oslo and is aware of all the details. All his reservations are correct and they necessitate answers from the leadership."
Haaretz has learned that officials close to Abbas have initiated talks with activists and representatives of the prisoners' families in an attempt to quell the anger.
Pro-prisoner activists believe that the parameters for the first batch of prisoners to be released will be similar to those that determined which prisoners were released in the deal that led to the release of former prisoner Gilad Shalit. “It's true that they were all sentenced to life terms, but there are parameters concerning the essence of the crime, the participation of the prisoner in the crime and the danger attributed to him, meaning that Israel has security considerations that can determine that a prisoner is still dangerous after more than 20 years in Israeli prison," one of them said.
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