Palestinian Minister: Israeli Authorities Should Release Long-serving Inmates

There can be no peace settlement or enduring cease-fire without the release of prisoners, Palestinian Authority Minister for Prisoners Affairs Hisham Abd al-Raziq said on Sunday in an interview with Haaretz.

"The Israelis must understand that this isn't the only place in the world in which the resolution of a conflict between two sides is dependent on the release of prisoners, without exception," Al-Raziq said. "We have seen it in South Africa and we have seen it in Northern Ireland - that there is no chance of solving the problem and reinforcing the cease-fire without the release of prisoners."

Al-Raziq is slated to be part of a joint Israeli-Palestinian team that will draw up a list of prisoners to be released by Israel.

The PA minister said that topping the Palestinian list of priorities were prisoners who have been in detention for more than 11 years - namely, Palestinians who were imprisoned prior to the signing of the "Gaza First" agreement on May 4, 1994, but were not released. To this end, he said, Israel would have to alter its criteria and fundamental concept with regard to the release of prisoners.

"In my opinion, it is easier for Israel to release the long-serving prisoners. For the most part, these are mature individuals who have an influence over the organizations and a status that can influence for the better," Al-Raziq said. "We all know that these prisoners played a decisive role in the decision on the first cease-fire and the cease-fire today."

Beyond the principle that an agreement between two sides requires the release of prisoners, Al-Raziq said that this is the way "to strengthen [PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen and convince the organizations that the political process has a chance, and that the political process is worthwhile, from both a personal and a political point of view."