Itongadol.- Ahead of the potential fourth stage of the prisoner release, set to take place at the end of this week, opposition MKs wrote a letter on Monday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling on him to freeze settlement construction instead of freeing 26 more terrorists.
As prisoner release looms, bereaved families protest
"Exchanging the prisoner release for a freeze of settlement construction at least during negotiations is the right thing for the government, for bereaved families, for our sense of justice and for Israel as a whole," said MK Hilik Bar (Labor), who authored the letter, which was signed by MKs from both the Labor and Shas parties. "A freeze can always be stopped and \’thawed\’ once again. The decision to [offer a settlement] freeze instead of releasing terrorists should have been the original decision that Israel made. The mistake must be fixed, and better late than never."
"I wrote this letter together with MK Omer Bar-Lev (Labor) out of the understanding that this is the right decision," Bar added.
Bar-Lev said, "Netanyahu is standing today before an opportunity to go from following to leading," Bar-lev said. "A settlement freeze is the right thing to do at this time."
Palestinian officials also addressed the prisoner release issue on Monday. A senior Palestinian official quoted by Palestinian news agency Maan said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told U.S. President Barack Obama last week that he would agree to extending the current peace talks if Israel agrees to release additional prisoners and to freeze settlement construction.
On the other hand, Palestinian negotiator Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh said that if Israel fails to meet its commitment to free prisoners, the Palestinians would view it as an end of the negotiations and would once again turn to international organizations in an effort to receive recognition as an independent state.
Palestinian officials have even criticized Israel for attempting to make the fourth stage of the prisoner release contingent on the Palestinians agreeing to extend the peace talks.
Meanwhile, just ahead of the 12th anniversary of the Passover bombing of the Park Hotel in Netanya, in which 30 Israelis were killed, the group "My Israel" organized a march in Netanya by bereaved families. The march ended with a more than 250-person demonstration outside the Park Hotel.
The protest\’s slogan was "We will not forget, we will not release."
Signs with phrases including, "The blood of our loved ones is not unclaimed," dotted the protest. Oren Tamam, brother of Moshe Tamam, who was kidnapped and murdered 30 years ago when he was a soldier, said: "We came here out of hope to shake up the country so that the government will understand that you do not release terrorist murderers with blood on their hands."
As of now, Netanyahu has not announced a meeting of the ministers who will determine the list of prisoners to be released in the fourth stage and has not addressed calls by ministers to nix the release.