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Netanyahu Crosses Red Line With Prisoner Release

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to release Palestinian prisoners as a token of good will toward the Palestinians, instead of a settlement freeze. 
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in front of U.S. President Barack Obama (C) during a trilateral meeting at President Obama's hotel in New York September 22, 2009. Obama, making his most direct foray into Middle East diplomacy, on Tuesday called Israelis and Palestinians to act with a sense of urgency to get formal peace negotiations back on track.    REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES POLITICS) - RTR285E9
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As an Israeli journalist, I first became aware of the issue of Palestinian prisoners in autumn 1993. For years, the only exposure that the Israeli public had to those people defined as terrorists was photographs initiated by the Israeli security forces, which allowed television crews to visit the prisons or to attend their sentencing by military tribunals. In most cases, they received life in prison. It was only after the signing of the Oslo Accords that I saw a Palestinian prisoner up close and face to face. No longer hiding behind his keffiyeh, I saw a human being.

The prisoner I met was Sufian Abu Zaida, who has since become a close friend. Those were days of great hope and joy. Practically overnight, people who were defined as terrorists and the murderers of women and children, became partners in a complex and difficult process to restore trust between the parties after a century of violence. The Palestinians felt a sense of euphoria too. In the nascent Palestinian Authority, the prisoner release was regarded as an exchange of prisoners of war, who were coming home after the fighting had ended.

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