Bennett Bends Truth on Prisoner Releases, Touting Hard-right Stance

Naftali Bennett says no Palestinians have been released from Israeli prisons under his watch when in fact 104 prisoners were freed as part of a U.S. mediated deal in 2013

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Palestinians celebrate the release of prisoners in Ramallah, December 2013.
Palestinians celebrate the release of prisoners in Ramallah, December 2013. Credit: AP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Hayamin Hehadash Chairman Naftali Bennett said Wednesday that since he joined the government, no Palestinian terrorists have been released from Israeli prisons. Speaking to Ynet, Bennett said his party opposes the release of terrorists. “[B]efore I came thousands of terrorists were released, including by Likud governments, and I said, ‘no more’ and since then not a single terrorist was released,” Bennett said.

In fact, in July 2013, when Bennett was economic affairs minister, the cabinet approved the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners as part of a deal to renew negotiations promoted by then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Although Bennett opposed the move, 78 prisoners were released in three stages. The last was in December 2013.

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In a written response, Bennett’s office said that up to 2013, when he joined the security cabinet, Israeli governments had released thousands of terrorists with blood on their hands. “This was a moral and tactical error. That was halted. Bennett presented a tough stance against the release of terrorists and promoted a determined policy of strengthening deterrence. As a result of this position and Bennett’s ultimatum, the fourth stage of the prisoner release was avoided, and since then not a single terrorist has been released. During the Shuvu Ahim operation [after the kidnapping and murder of three teens in Gush Etzion in summer 2014], Bennett initiated the return of released terrorists to prison for the first and only time in Israeli history.”

In the first phase of the 2013 prisoner release, in August, 26 prisoners were released to Gaza and the West Bank. Most had been convicted of murder, attempted murder or abetting murder. Their victims were Israelis as well as Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel. In October, 26 prisoners were released; an additional 26 were freed in December. In April 2014, then-Justice Minister Tzipi Livni froze the final phase.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, January 16, 2019. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

After the second release, Channel 2 reported that Bennett had given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his okay to release prisoners in exchange for building in settlements. Bennett reportedly said he could “live with” the releases under that condition, although he voted against it. Bennett denied the remarks.

At the time, Yossi Verter wrote in Haaretz: “Today it’s pretty clear that Bennett agreed last July — verbally, by his silence, by nodding or by sighing — to a deal for releasing those who murdered Jews in exchange for building in the territories. All the testimonies of all the relevant officials at the time support this assumption. Afterward he regretted it, and when he identified a way to clip a coupon for his voters, he didn’t think twice.”

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