Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has decided not to carry out a request by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to release Palestinian prisoners who are held by Israel as a gesture of goodwill for the Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Adha celebrated this week. The release of prisoners for this holiday has been a tradition during past years and has been practiced by most Israeli governments.
The reason given by the Prime Minister’s office: Olmert had reached a conclusion that any release of prisoners – symbolic or not – before the release of Gilad Shalit, will hurt the efforts to bring him back and may even up the price for his freedom.
However, Olmert did order a number of other relief measures as a gesture for the holiday, including allowing Israeli Arabs to enter areas in the West Bank under full control of the Palestinian Authority for the purpose of visiting families. Normally, this is not allowed by military a decree.
In addition, 4,000 permits will be given to Palestinians from the West Bank to visit their relatives in Israel, and the Sufa crossing in Gaza will work extra hours to accommodate goods entering the Gaza Strip.
In the cabinet meeting last week Olmert said that the time has come to show flexibility and generosity on the issue of prisoner release. Three cabinet ministers – Peretz, Peres, and Mofaz – all supported releasing prisoners for the holiday even before the release of Shalit, but Olmert ultimately decided to reject the issue.