At 9:00 pm sealed Israeli vans with tinted windows began driving the first round of Palestinian prisoners to the West Bank and Gaza as part of a “goodwill gesture” before peace negotiations. The late night transfer and dark cars are being used to control prisoners from gesturing a “V for victory” hand signal to press, according to Israeli officials.
The first 26 of 104 prisoners were taken to Ayalon Prison in Ramle (near Tel Aviv) earlier this week on Monday. Fourteen are now en route to Gaza via the Erez Crossing and 12 are on their way to Ofer Prison where they will be transferred to Ramallah. Currently there are over 5,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons and 136 in administrative detention, indefinite arrest without charge.
Shortly after midnight the Palestinian Authority (PA) will host a welcoming ceremony for the released prisoners and their families at the Muqata. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to give a special address.
This early termination of sentences is first of four releases staggered over the next few months. All of detainees that will be let out early are “pre-Oslo prisoners”, incarcerated between 1985 and 2001. Many received prison terms that well exceeded their natural lives. However, some have already served nearly 25 years and their sentences are almost at term. The Israeli Prime Minister’s office solely determined which prisoners would be released and when.
The prisoners’ rights group Addameer said these types of prisoner releases are common when negotiations re-start, however, often Israel reneges or waves of Palestinian arrests follows the public motion:
[A]lthough Israel promises to release prisoners in every return to negotiations since Oslo I in 1993, they often renege partially or completely on the agreements, in direct violation of Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties (1969), which affirms that agreements between two party states are binding. Indeed, over 23,000 Palestinians have been released since 1993 as “goodwill measures” during various negotiations and peace talks. However, in that same period, at least 86,000
Palestinians have been arrested, including children, women, disabled persons and university students.
In advance of the prisoner release Israeli officials published a list of the potential prisoners to be let out of detention early, which included convictions and sentences. Some families of deceased Israelis killed by the Palestinian prisoners slated for release petitioned Israel’s High Court last week to cancel the move. And the YESHA Council, a settler organization, called Prime Minister Netanyahu to pressure him into canceling the agreement. Yet earlier today the High Court rejected the appeal.
While most Israeli media has labeled the Palestinian prisoners as terrorists and all but renounced the move towards peace talks, Haaretz noted this evening, not all of the families of Israelis killed by Palestinians are opposing the release:
Yet Ada Kuenstler, whose 84-year-old father, Avraham Kuenstler, was killed in 1992 by a prisoner due to be released, said she understood Israel’s political considerations in freeing Abdallah Salah from his 99-year sentence.
‘I want peace and do not ask for revenge, and I am not objecting to this move because I want to hope that this will bring peace a little closer,’ she told Reuters.
Direct peace talks will resume this week in Jerusalem, followed by a meeting in Jericho. Israel and the PA have committed to nine-months of discussions, facilitated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.