Israeli lawmakers met with jailed Palestinian terrorists, including some convicted of masterminding deadly suicide bombings, more than 200 times between 2010 and 2016, at which point such meetings were banned, Channel 12 news reported Tuesday.
The report detailed 228 known visits; however, some of the MKs involved said the list represented a small fraction of the actual encounters that took place.
While most of the visits were carried out by Arab Israeli Knesset members, several Jewish lawmakers, including current Labor party leader Amir Peretz, also met with uprising leader Marwan Barghouti of Fatah.
Barghouti, who is in prison serving five life sentences for murder, for his role in deadly terror attacks on Israelis in the Second Intifada, is hugely popular among the Palestinians and is seen as a possible successor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Barghouti was frequently visited by Haim Oron, the former leader of the left-wing Meretz party.
“He is considered by many as one of the leading personalities in Palestinian society,” said Oron. “I thought it was important that he have contact with an Israeli and so we maintained constant contact in dozens of meetings, beyond those on the list,” he told Channel 12.
Among those to visit Barghouti were also several Arab Israeli lawmakers. Peretz said all the visits were coordinated and took place with the full knowledge of the Israeli government.
Arab MKs also visited several prisoners convicted for their roles masterminding some of the worst suicide bombings, including Hamas terrorists Hassan Salameh, who planned the two 1996 attacks on the route 18 buses in Jerusalem that killed 46 people, and Abbas A-Sayed, serving 35 life sentences for planning the 2002 Passover eve attack on the Park Hotel and several other acts of terror.
Former MK Jamal Zahalke of the Balad party, who was one of the lawmakers to meet with Salameh, said that he met with those who were considered leaders among the prisoners and spoke on behalf of all the inmates.
Others defended the meetings as part of efforts to monitor the conditions and treatment of security prisoners in Israeli jails.
The meetings were banned by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan in 2016 as part of his efforts to limit perks for jailed security prisoners, particularly while Hamas is holding several Israelis in Gaza.
Following the Channel 12 report Tuesday night, several right-wing politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned the MKs for the visits and said it provided an example of the “warped and dangerous path of the left.”
Netanyahu noted that the visits were banned in 2016 under the leadership of the Likud. “This is the difference between a strong right and a weak left,” said Netanyahu, who was also prime minister for the entire period of the visits.
Peretz hit back, noting that under Netanyahu Israel has repeatedly negotiated with Hamas in Gaza, even though Israel does not publicly acknowledge it.
“A prime minister who negotiates with a terror group and is blackmailed by Hamas into giving them suitcases with millions of dollars should not dare lecture on the morality of visits that were done for the security of the state about issues that I can’t divulge,” Peretz told Channel 12.