Catch and release
Hebrew Media Review

Catch and release

Israel's willingness to set free over 100 convicted Palestinians for a chance to restart negotiations is (almost) all the papers care about

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Illustrative image of inmates it the Tsalmon prison in the Lower Galilee, July 01, 2013 (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Illustrative image of inmates it the Tsalmon prison in the Lower Galilee, July 01, 2013 (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

The pain of releasing Palestinian prisoners convicted of murder and other violent crimes dominates the front pages of Monday’s Hebrew dailies, tinged with the hope that the gesture would in fact allow the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to make progress.

“Releasing and talking,” reads the headline of Yedioth Ahronoth, regarding the cabinet’s decision to approve the phased release of over 100 Palestinian prisoners as talks with the Palestinian Authority take place in Washington, DC.

“I’m traveling with a heavy sense of responsibility, but also [with] great hope,” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, the minister in charge of the negotiations, was quoted by the paper as telling her confidants after the vote passed with almost a two-thirds majority (13 ministers voted in favor and seven against).

Livni said this was an opportunity for both sides to make a move in the right direction, noting she was “aware of the difficulties, but believed in the chance” that an agreement could end the bloodshed.

Haaretz‘s headline highlights the briefing given by the head of the Shin Bet before the ministers voted on the release of the 104 prisoners. The decision to approve the release, Yoram Cohen told the cabinet, would “help calm” the tension felt throughout the West Bank.

However, Cohen also warned the ministers that some 20 percent of released terrorists end up re-affiliated with terror groups on some scale or another. Besides those two immediate effects, the Shin Bet head said, Israel’s willingness to release bargaining chips ahead of the talks could be viewed as a weakness and harm the country’s future deterrence.

In Maariv, much room was given to the second decision passed by the cabinet on Sunday — a principle agreement that any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians be approved in a nationwide referendum.

The paper reports that the vote on the proposal — which was backed by Netanyahu — was “much more calm than that regarding the release of prisoners,” and notes that only three ministers voted against.

“It’s important that in such an important decision every citizen vote directly” to help determine the future of the state, Netanyahu said after the motion passed.

While the bill passed calmly in the cabinet, the tabloid reports that there was strong objection from the opposition. “Netanyahu proves again [that] he’s a cowardly leader,” Meretz head Zahava Gal-on said following the vote.

Israel Hayom features two politicians side by side voicing their opposing views on the upcoming release of prisoners. Labor Party MK Nachman Shai calls the move painful and tough — but right.

Releasing prisoners who committed horrible crimes is “a bad decision that should never have happened,” Shai writes. However, he continues, when the move is put into a wider context of advancing Israel’s strategic needs of dialogue with the Palestinians, it’s worth it.

The negotiations might be that start of “a move that could produce an agreement we want and need,” Shai writes, which is why the gesture, though painful, “is a positive one.”

On the same page, but worlds apart, the Likud’s Tzipi Hotovely slams her own party and government for making “a wrong decision.” The decision to release prisoners, she writes, makes Israelis feel “that once again they’re giving [up assets] without getting anything in return.”

Hotovely write that since Netanyahu promised there would be no preconditions for entering the talks, it’s absurd that the Israeli government approved such a thing. The move itself, she says can still be stopped since it’s neither moral nor does it serve the country’s interests.

On a different subject, Maariv reports the government’s confirmation that DNA tests are used to confirm one’s Jewish heritage for those wishing to move to Israel on a short-term program or gain citizenship.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the paper reports, the tests are used to prove a family connection to someone who the state knows for a fact is eligible to come to Israel under the law of return.

Haaretz is the only paper that dedicates space on its front page to an amendment passed in the Knesset’s legislative committee, that could change the political layout of Israel’s parliament.

The motion to raise the minimal electoral threshold from 2% to 4% in order for a party to gain representation in the Knesset will “erase small parties or force them to unite into one,” the paper writes. None of the three Arab parties currently represented in the Knesset would have passed the threshold under the new law, it notes.

read more: