Last week we reported that pending a cabinet vote, Israel would release a large number of Palestinian prisoners in order to get peace talks restarted. On Sunday, the Israeli cabinet voted 13-7 with two abstentions to release 104 prisoners, the New York Times reports.
Many of the prisoners were involved in deadly terrorist attacks and their release is one being met with debate and contention. Outside the courthouse, Israeli protesters fought against the impending release.
As the cabinet meeting got under way, scores of Israeli protesters gathered outside the prime minister’s office, including people whose relatives were killed in terrorist acts. The protesters carried signs bearing the names and portraits of some of the victims.
“It rips our heart out that they are aiding and abetting the terrorists,” said Yehudit Tayar, one of the protesters.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, said that the resumption of talks was “important for Israel.”
“This moment is not easy for me,” Mr. Netanyahu said, according to a statement from his office. “It is not easy for the ministers. It is not easy especially for the families, the bereaved families, whose heart I understand. But there are moments in which tough decisions must be made for the good of the country, and this is one of those moments.”
The prisoner release was the final prerequisite to restarting peace talks, which last occurred in 2010. The next step takes place this week in Washington, where teams of both Israeli and Palestinian representatives will meet to begin talks, CBS News reports. Secretary of State John Kerry invited Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Washington as well.
State Department spokeswoman Jan Psaki said in a statement that talks would begin Monday evening and continue Tuesday. It said the talks would “serve as an opportunity to develop a procedural work plan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months.”
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho will represent the Israelis while Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyeh will represent the Palestinians, CNN reports.