Israel Cabinet agrees to free Palestine inmates
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem July 28, 2013. REUTERS PhotoIsrael’s Cabinet has approved the release of 104 long-held Palestinian prisoners, clearing a hurdle toward a possible resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks after five years of paralysis.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged ministers to approve the release, saying it’s important for Israel to restart talks with the Palestinians.
Two ministers of Netanyahu’s Likud Party voted no, an official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
The Cabinet approved the release in four stages over several months, with each step linked to progress in the negotiations. According to a list provided by the Palestinians, the prisoners have served between 19 and 30 years for involvement in deadly attacks on Israelis.
Netanyahu spoke at a meeting of the Cabinet called to vote on the prisoner release, while hundreds of Israelis who lost loved ones in Palestinian attacks protested outside the government complex against the move. Among the protesters was the head of the Netanyahu parliamentary coalition’s third most powerful party.
Government adopts peace referendum bill
The Israeli government approved a bill to submit any peace treaty with the Palestinians to a referendum, a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said.
"Any agreement which may be reached in negotiations will be put to a referendum," it quoted him as saying. "It is important that on such historic decisions every citizen should vote directly on an issue deciding the country's future." A Palestinian official told AFP on Saturday that a US-brokered renewal of peace talks, stalled since September 2010, would open in Washington on Tuesday.
There has so far been no official confirmation.
A cabinet briefing paper said the government saw the referendum bill as "urgent and important" and said it would be asking parliament to fast-track its passage into law.
Israeli media said that it could go before the house for a first reading this week.
If adopted, a referendum would be a final endorsement of a treaty after ratification by the government and parliament.
The draft is seen as a gesture to rightwing ministers apprehensive of concessions that could be demanded of Israel in the talks.
It would oblige a referendum in cases where territory over which Israel claims sovereignty is ceded in a peace agreement or by a cabinet decision.
That would include any part of mainly-Arab east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.
The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem for the capital of their state. Israel rules out ceding sovereignty over any part of what it calls its "eternal and indivisible capital."