Senior Palestinian sources in Ramallah on Sunday told Israel Hayom that the second wave of Palestinian prisoner releases will be carried out as planned this Tuesday. A senior official in Ramallah told Israel Hayom that they had not yet received the list of prisoners from Israel and that the identities of the prisoners to be released are as yet unclear. He said that in any case it will be a subset of 26 prisoners from among the 104 prisoners jailed in Israeli prisons prior to the signing of the Oslo accords in 1994.
According to the senior Palestinian Authority official, almost all the prisoners to be released in the second round were convicted of murder, aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter out of nationalistic motives.
"The list will include prisoners defined in Israel as 'prisoners with blood on their hands,' but the list will contain only Palestinian prisoners who are residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and not Israeli Arabs or residents of east Jerusalem."
The senior Palestinian official also said that as part of the memorandum of understanding signed by the sides prior to the start of negotiations, Israel would have the right to decide which of the released prisoners could return to his home in the West Bank and which West Bank residents would be banished to the Gaza Strip based on the demands of the Israeli defense establishment. The defense establishment will decide which are the most dangerous prisoners in terms of the likelihood that if allowed to return to the West Bank, they would re-establish terror cells and terror infrastructure there.
Meanwhile, against the backdrop of the expected release of terrorists this week, there has been a severe conflict between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett.
The arena of the conflict is mainly in the ministerial committee on legislation, which will convene on Sunday to discuss a proposed law that Bennett is promoting and whose purpose is to prevent large-scale releases of prisoners in the future.
Netanyahu opposes the law, claiming that it limits the maneuvering room of the diplomatic echelon, and at this stage it is unclear whether it will gain enough support to pass, because the result depends on the vote of several Likud ministers who are under pressure to oppose the bill. Foremost among these ministers are Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar and Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat.
Last week, incidentally, a decision passed the ministerial committee for legislation not to allow negotiations over dividing Jerusalem without the support of 80 Knesset members.
In the proposed Basic Law: The President of the State, Amendment: Prisoner Releases, which was proposed by MK Orit Struck (Habayit Hayehudi) and supported by Likud MKs and also signed by Coalition Chairman MK Yariv Levin, it is explained that "any government decision to release terrorists as part of what is called a 'diplomatic gesture' empties of all content the president's authority to use his personal judgment regarding the granting of a pardon to individual terrorists in question."
In tandem with the fight over the proposed law, Habayit Hayehudi and parts of Likud-Beytenu continue their efforts to halt the government's decision about three months ago to release 104 terrorists as part of the agreement to conduct negotiations with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
At the time, the government decided that the terrorists would be released in four rounds over a period of nine months, in parallel with progress in the negotiations.
This coming Thursday, the second wave of 26 prisoners is expected to be released. The prime minister's attempt to soften the release by promoting building in the settlements -- encountered resistance and a direct attack by Habayit Hayehudi on Netanyahu and on the person described as his "partner," Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is leading the negotiations with the Palestinians on the government's behalf.
The chairwoman of the ministerial committee on legislation, Livni, does not intend to bring to a vote on Sunday Habayit Hayehudi's proposed legislation to prevent the release of terrorists.
Her associates say that the matter only came up on Friday and has not yet been studied by professionals and that a final decision will be made this morning. In Habayit Hayehudi they are criticizing Livni and saying that talks with Saeb Erekat are not a good reason to release murderers, or to delay the proposed law preventing the release of prisoners.
"The release of prisoners in exchange for the dubious right of Tzipi Livni to meet with Saeb Erekat is most terrible. With all due respect, halting the release of murderers is even more important than justifying Livni's being in the government," said the statement.
Associates of Livni said over the weekend that "Habayit Hayehudi prefers building in the settlements over any other Israeli national or security interest. We will continue to lead the negotiations in coordination with the prime minister."
The prime minister and his office did not address the subject at the end of the week, and government ministers, including Bennett, refrained from addressing the issue publicly and left the arena to MKs from their parties. The deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Office, MK Ofir Akunis (Likud), said that "releasing the prisoners is a step that is immoral, goes against security and does not advance peace. Since the previous release, the number of terror attacks has only increased."
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud) called on the cabinet ministers to halt the release of prisoners. "Any other decision gives a tailwind to terrorism."
In Habayit Hayehudi, the attack is harsher and MK Ayelet Shaked said that "releasing prisoners in exchange for negotiations is a moral injustice and a diplomatic injustice. There is no connection between construction and prisoner release."
Another member of her party, MK Yoni Chetboun said, "It's better for Tzipi Livini to be outside the coalition than a danger to the security of Israeli citizens. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority is adamantly denying reports that as part of the second wave of prisoner releases, Jerusalem and Ramallah have reached an understanding regarding the continued Israeli building in the settlements."
PLO Executive Committee Secretary Yasser Abed Rabbo said, "There haven't been and there won't be such understandings and if Mahmoud Abbas knew that Israel would connect these two things, we would not have returned to the negotiating table."
"Terrorists' bodies will not be returned to the PA"
Israel's diplomatic echelon is denying reports disseminated of late by the Palestinians, to the effect that Israel will also transfer to the PA bodies of terrorists as part of the waves of prisoner release.
According to a senior diplomatic source, Israel clarified to the PA that returning the bodies of terrorists is done in coordination with their families and not with any particular organization. "Israel's message was loud and clear, there will be no commerce in bodies."
Habayit Hayehudi's reaction also stated that democracy also requires bringing to a vote laws that Livni does not necessarily agree with. Close associates of the justice minister accused the party and its chairman, Naftali Bennett, of incitement.
The ministerial committee for Palestinian prisoner release headed by Netanyahu is expected to convene Sunday evening to discuss the list of prisoners expected to be released in the second round.
Over the weekend, Habayit Hayehudi released a statement in which it accused Livni of pushing Netanyahu to hold negotiations with the Palestinians, and that it is due to her that murderous prisoners are being released.
On the other hand, Hatnuah says that the entire government decided on the release of murderers, first and foremost Netanyahu. "The people who caused the release of prisoners is Habayit Hayehudi," MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatnuah) told Army Radio, "Their demands from the prime minister were dogged day after day. They pressured the prime minister not to freeze settlement construction and to release prisoners. And it's clear that the opposite was the right thing to do."
Meanwhile, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz from Hatnuah warns that "incitement," as he calls it, of Habayit Hayehudi towards Livni and Hatnuah could lead to disaster. What starts with spitting, he said, could lead to murder. He was responding to the arrest last week of a 17-year-old youth from a moshav in the north on suspicions that he spat on MK Elazar Stern from Hatnuah. According to Peretz, the members of Habayit Hayehudi are acting hypocritically.
"On the one hand they enjoy the perks of being in the government and on the other hand, attack the government over the decision to release prisoners, when they themselves participated in the vote," Peretz said.
He also said it would have been possible to avoid the release of prisoners if Habayit Hayehudi had agreed to freeze settlement construction during the negotiations.
MK Ayelet Shaked responded that Peretz was lying because the spitting incident against Stern was not out of diplomatic motives. She also said that the possibility never came up to freeze construction in Judea and Samaria in place of releasing Palestinian prisoners. She added that nothing would come out of the diplomatic negotiations except for the release of prisoners.
Meanwhile, a protest is planned for Monday evening at the Ofer prison, from where the Palestinian prisoners will be released. Posters for the demonstration call on participants to form a "human chain" around the prison, to "stop the release of terrorists." The protest is organized by Almagor, the terror victims' association, the Likud young leadership division, the young leadership of Habayit Hayehudi, and the nationalist faction of the Likud, and posters advertise the participation of "bereaved families and government ministers."