Hebrew newspapers highlight two controversial security issues Wednesday — the release of 26 Palestinian security prisoners in the framework of negotiations with the PA, and cuts in the defense budget that will lead to thousands of IDF layoffs.
Thousands of Palestinians gathered in Ramallah in the early hours of Wednesday morning to greet 21 prisoners released from Israeli custody to the West Bank as part of arrangements for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Five other Palestinian prisoners were released earlier in Gaza. All 26 were convicted murderers, most of them jailed for crimes committed before the 1993 Oslo Accords.
The move, the second in a series of four planned releases as part of US-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians, raised ire in Israel’s right wing and among victims of terror, and set passions aflame in the cabinet, which approved the move Sunday night over the objections of the Knesset’s hawks.
Yedioth Ahronoth has a picture below the fold on the front page of what appears to be a young Palestinian man, wearing a keffiyeh around his face and holding up blood-stained hands. It turns out the man is an Israeli protesting the prisoner release.
Its coverage begins on page 4, where Yedioth recounts the last-minute efforts by families of terror victims to get the Supreme Court to postpone the release. The move was rejected by the court.
The paper carries two short opinion pieces by Israelis whose family members were killed by prisoners set free last night. Giora Pomerantz, whose brother Amnon was killed in a 1990 lynch in the al-Bureij refugee camp — and one of whose killers was freed early Wednesday — wrote in support of the release. “I fought in all of the wars from the Six Day War until Lebanon. Only someone who doesn’t know war is capable of sending someone else to fight for him. I am willing to pay the enemy so there will be peace. Because my brother was murdered, I am ready to pay the price. My brother’s murderers sat in prison for more than 20 years. If they return to terror after their release, they will get what is coming to them from us.”
Gila Molcho takes the opposing side. Her brother, Ian Feinberg, was serving as a lawyer helping the EU support the Gazan economy when three Palestinians, including the security guard at the site, burst into his office and slit his throat. “Three times the country betrayed me and my brother — in the Shalit deal, in the first release, and now (when one of Feinberg’s killers was freed). I did not go and demonstrate against the Shalit deal because I could not look Aviva Shalit in the eyes and tell her I am against the release of her son. I went through hell, but I kept my lips sealed. But when my brother’s blood and memory are trampled in an empty gesture, I cannot stay silent any longer. Someone needs to stop the madness.”
Maariv leads with Chief of Staff Benny Gantz’s criticism of the defense cuts, though it does give the prisoner release front page treatment. The daily adds that the prisoners had to sign an agreement that they would not return to terror. “One should remember that a similar prediction [that they wouldn’t return to terror] was given on the eve of the Shalit deal, but in fact many released terrorists returned to terror activities, and ten of them have been returned to Israeli prisons,” it reports.
Haaretz runs analyses from Ramallah and Gaza on the eve of the release, with Amira Hass reporting on the lack of excitement in Ramallah about the move. She writes that Palestinians are instead worried about “the abundance of collective problems that affect every family. For example, the fate of the Palestinian refugees left behind in Syria; Israel’s success in ignoring the international position and continuing the building of settlements…; the dangers from settlers facing harvesters and farmers; the salaries that are never guaranteed to be paid in a given month; the social, political, and economic collapse in East Jerusalem and its detachment from the rest of the West Bank; the blockade on Gaza that has only gotten worse since the Egyptian revolution; and the internal Palestinian political splintering whose end is nowhere near.”
Zvi Barel writes on the nadir of Hamas’s popularity and the growing movement to topple its government in Gaza. Iran and Hamas have split over Syria, Egypt under the military has turned its back, and the money sent by Qatar doesn’t come close to meeting the movement’s needs. And now, there are internal threats, especially from the Tamrod Gaza movement. That movement, which took its name from the Egyptian youth movement that toppled the Morsi government, “plans mass protests on November 11, the anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s death. On the website of Tamrod Gaza they are already urging Gazans to prepare a week’s worth of food beginning November 11 and to stay at home out of fear of an attack from armed Hamas forces.” According to the movement’s spokesperson, Tamrod Gaza “is planning to cause the fall of the Hamas government, primarily because of its oppressive governance and because ‘it has become Israel’s defense wing.’”
Israel Hayom covers the prisoner release on its front page, but focuses on the settlement building the government will approve in a nod to critics on the right. “In parallel with the release: Construction of 1,500 new units,” blares the headline. Jerusalem, Maale Adumim, Beitar Illit, Ariel, and Karnei Shomron will see new construction, according to the article, in addition to a further 2,000 units in the Jordan valley, Samaria, and the Binyamin region near Jerusalem.
“According to a government source, the move is coordinated with the Americans. He said, ‘It was clear on the eve of the start of the negotiations that Israel will not accept any limits on settlement building.’”
The Hebrew press also covered the battle over the defense budget. IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz is expected to request an extra NIS 4.5 billion ($1.28 billion) for the defense budget at Wednesday’s cabinet debate, arguing that the army would have to cut training programs if it doesn’t receive the extra allotment from the Finance Ministry.
At a ceremony honoring Bedouin soldiers Tuesday, Gantz said that he would fight any attempts to cut the salaries or pensions of career soldiers. “I will not under any circumstances harm the basic rights of career soldiers,” he said. “Any harm done to you, any defamatory remark directed toward you, harms Israel’s security.”
“You serve — you are not workers — and you don’t have a union, don’t have tenure, and are not allowed to organize. We don’t need organizations and we won’t deal with our people through lawyers…You answered the call. Career soldiers — every Israeli knows it is their right to live in security, and to know that [you] do not go on strike — regardless of what happens,” said Gantz, according to Maariv.
Haaretz combines its coverage of the defense budget with two other stories from the IDF. An internal IDF study found that Ethiopian soldiers continue to do poorly on IDF entrance exams, which keeps them out of officers’ school, the pilots’ course, and intelligence. In addition, hundreds of Haredi yeshiva students received draft notices for the second time, calling on them to show up at the draft center within the next month, after their previous notices were delayed. It is possible, Haaretz writes, that these notices will be delayed as well as the Knesset grapples with the question of the ultra-Orthodox draft.