The cabinet was expected to convene Sunday morning to vote on the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture to the Palestinian Authority ahead of the expected resumption of US-brokered peace talks.
Ahead of the vote, relatives of Israelis who were killed in terror attacks gathered outside the government complex in Jerusalem to protest against the release of prisoners.
The protesters chanted: "This is a day of mourning," "You do not release murderers of children" and "Bibi is a coward." They handed out the private phone numbers of the ministers to passersby, urging them to call the ministers and ask that they vote against the release of Palestinian prisoners.
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According to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's proposal, the prisoners will be released at stages as the peace negotiations progress. The proposal further states that a ministerial committee headed by Netanyahu will finalize the details of the prisoners' release at a later stage. The cabinet is expected to approve the proposal.
Apart from the premier, the ministerial committee will include Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich and Science and Technology Minister Ya'akov Peri.
Bennett (center) with protesters (Photo: Roee Idan)
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who is against the release of terrorists, joined the protesters. "Releasing terrorists bring a lot of bereavement and it is a mark of disgrace on the State of Israel. He on the other side who demands the release of people who murdered and burned children and women is not worthy of being called a 'partner.' I will vote against, my friends will note against," said the chairman of the Hbayit Hayehudi party.
"Terrorists should be eliminated, not freed," he said during the demonstration.
Mica Brumberg, the sister in law Avraham Brumberg, an IDF soldier who was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist in 1981, said at the beginning of the demonstration, "We came to deliver a clear message – do not release terrorists with Israeli identity cards.
"Bibi, do not give in, do not get stressed, watch over our descendents, our children. The murderers of our loved ones have faces and names, they are not numbers. They cannot hide behind long lists and government meetings," she said.
'Day of mourning.' Protest in Jerusalem (Photo: Moran Azulay)
Among those set for release are the abductors and murderers of soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984. "The blood of soldiers and civilians who were killed is crying out from the ground," said Ayelet Tamam, sister-in-law of Moshe Tamam. "We must not make the mistake and release these heinous terrorists as a precondition. These are killers who will return to murder. Release as a condition for peace talks shows a weak state. Netanyahu demonstrates fear and subservience in the face of the Palestinians. This will only encourage more killings and terrorism.”
Photo: Gil Yohanan
Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) urged the cabinet to approve the release of prisoners. "This is a difficult and painful decision, first and foremost for the families, but it will not hurt the State of Israel's resilience and will allow for the jumpstarting of negotiations – a move that will bolster Israel both strategically and economically.
"The prime minister must listen to the majority of the public and the majority in the Knesset which support a diplomatic solution, rather than continue to be led by the extremists in his government," she said.
Explaining his decision to release Palestinian prisoners, Netanyahu said Saturday in an open letter to the citizens of Israel, "This is an incredibly difficult decision. It hurts the bereaved families, it hurts all of the Israeli people and it hurts me very much. It clashes with the most important principle, the principle of justice."
"Sometimes prime ministers are forced to make decisions that go against public opinion - when the issue is important for the country," he said.
"Our best response to the loathsome murderers who tried to terrorize us into submission is that in the decades that they sat in prison, we built a state to be proud of," Netanyahu said in the letter.
Addressing the upcoming start of peace talks, the PM said that "in the next nine months we will determine if across from us is a Palestinian partner that desires a true end to the conflict as we do."
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