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Abbas falls into prisoner release trap

The release of Palestinian prisoners has been diverted from a trust-building measure to a decisive issue for the negotiations' advancement and for the credibility of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas vis-a-vis his people.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (C) welcomes Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli prisons in the West Bank city of Ramallah early December 31, 2013. Israel set free 26 Palestinian prisoners on Tuesday as part of U.S.-brokered peace efforts, after pledging to press ahead with plans to build more homes in Jewish settlements. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman (WEST BANK - Tags: POLITICS) - RTX16XON
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The 104 Palestinian prisoners who Israel committed to release in the course of the diplomatic negotiations represent only 10% of the number of prisoners released by Israel to Hamas in the Gilad Shalit deal. About 2½ years ago, in 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to release more than a thousand security prisoners in exchange for the return of the abducted soldier. But the public criticism at the time was far from the harsh reactions provoked by the current release of a tenth of that number to restore Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' standing and honor in Palestinian public opinion.

The reason for the criticism is clear. The release of a thousand prisoners into Hamas' hands was viewed in Israel as a necessary, no-alternative step to bring Shalit home, while the release of 104 prisoners, in exchange for Palestinian agreement to hold talks with us, is not viewed even as a default. In effect, the decision to release "heavyweight prisoners," including those condemned to life sentences — counterbalancing the heavyweight Hamas prisoners released in the Shalit deal — not only became the key issue of the talks, but even the main bone of contention threatening to blow up the negotiations.

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