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Israel Releases 500 Palestinian Prisoners In Good Will Gesture

Sharon Aide Weisglass: ‘Current Disengagement Is Only One Of The Cards At Present, No Political Negotiations On Roadmap Unless Palestinians Dismantle Terror Organizations’

Likud ‘Rebels’: ‘We Will Try And Topple Sharon Government Over State Budget, Unless Prime Minister Agrees To National Referendum On Withdrawal’

Within twenty-four hours after the historic cabinet decision on withdrawal, Israel has released 500 Palestinian prisoners. This as Dov Weisglass, Ariel Sharon’s top aide, spelled out how the Prime Minister views future developments. Meanwhile, the Likud MKs opposed to the disengagement, are threatening to bring down the government over the budget.

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Prisoner Release

Israel freed five-hundred Palestinian prisoners today, another four hundred are also due to be released within the next three months. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is keeping the ball rolling. However, the Likud ‘rebels’ are now threatening to topple Sharon’s government by blocking Knesset approval of the new state budget.

None of the 500 Palestinian prisoners have Israeli blood on their hands, but most were involved in terror activity. They received a hero’s welcome when they returned to their homes in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. However, Meir Indor a member of the Almagor Families of Israeli Victims charges that Israel has capitulated to Palestinian pressure and this will trigger more terrorism in the future:

Hanan Ashrawi

However, for Palestinian legislator Dr. Hanan Ashrawi the release of 900 prisoners, while the terror organizations are still at large, is simply not enough. Ashrawi says Israel must also release ‘political’ prisoners, the code word for terrorists who do have Israeli blood on their hands: for example, the controllers who sent suicide bombers to blow up crowded Israeli buses, schools or restaurants:

What happens now in the political process? Dov Weisglass, Sharon’s top aide, says there are no further unilateral disengagements on the cards at present. Speaking at a Jerusalem symposium, Weisglass said if Palestinian President Abbas continues keeping the quiet it will be possible to co-ordinate the Israeli withdrawal next summer. He made clear that the Sharon government will not agree to start negotiating the Roadmap with the Palestinians, unless President Abbas really cracks down and dismantles the terror organizations: Hamas, Islamic Jihad and all the others. It was an Israeli ‘political axiom’.Weisglass was asked if Israel was now planning to sit pat and not carry out any further pullbacks in Judea and Samaria, the West Bank. He replied that Israel’s evacuation of 4 settlements in northern Samaria was ‘symbolic’ showing that Sharon was ready to negotiate on the West Bank, once Abbas ‘eliminates’ the threat of terrorists and their infrastructure. On this score, U.S. President George Bush had pledged to reject any attempts by the international community to ram any new peace plans down Israel’s throat. And if Israel and the Palestinians could not agree on the refugees and final borders, the U.S. would opt for the refugees being settled in the new Palestinian state and Israeli settlement blocs should be included within Israel.For Prime Minister Sharon, the disengagement vote in the cabinet was the toughest of his career:

MK Landau

In another development, thirteen or so Likud ‘rebels’ who oppose the withdrawal are not giving up. At a meeting today, they vowed to try and bring down the Sharon government by blocking Knesset approval of the new state budget. If the budget is not passed by the end of March, the Prime Minister will be forced to call an early election. MK Uzi Landau is adamant:But the disengagement gambit is paying dividends in Israel’s foreign relations. Egypt and Jordan are sending back ambassadors after recalling them at the start of the intifada; more Arab states may also establish diplomatic ties with Israel in the near future.

David Essing

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