The controversial issue of prisoner release is again in the news. Israeli political leaders have to navigate in changing environments and weigh many factors affecting national interests. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu five years ago said setting free convicted terrorists as a gesture to the Palestinians was “a dangerous move in the war on terror.” (See “Netanyahu: Gov’t crossing dangerous line by freeing prisoners,” Yediot Aharanot, Aug. 20, 2008.)
Today, Israel is under heavy pressure to bring Palestinians to the negotiating table, as they have threatened to boycott the opening meeting of negotiations in Washington unless Israel releases Palestinian prisoners. In this circumstance, Netanyahu has agreed to release 104 convicted terrorists (not, as some have described them, political prisoners) as a gesture to President Abbas, explaining that “sometimes prime ministers are forced to make decisions that go against public opinion – when the issue is important for the country.”
Setting aside the question of whether the prisoner release weakens Israel, as Netanyahu declared in 2008, or is needed to “ensure Israel’s essential national interests,” as he now explains, those wishing to better understand the issue and why it presents so sensitive a debate in Israel must know who these prisoners are and what crimes they committed. CAMERA provides a list below.