Analysis: 250 freed won't help Abbas
While most Palestinians will welcome the release of 250 security prisoners from Israeli jails, such a move is unlikely to boost the standing of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah.
All the freed prisoners are expected to belong to Fatah. The other Palestinian groups, which have thousands of prisoners in these jails, are already complaining that Abbas cares only about members of his faction.
Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Islamic Jihad have expressed deep concern over the government's decision to distinguish between the prisoners on the basis of their political affiliation.
"Israel is mistaken to think that the release of Fatah prisoners will strengthen Abbas," said a senior representative of the PFLP in the West Bank. "The families of the other prisoners will never forgive him for abandoning their sons. This move proves that he's the president of only some of the Palestinians."
Even Fatah leaders are unhappy with the decision to release only 250 prisoners. They say the number is too small and point out that most of the inmates were scheduled to be released soon anyway, after completing their sentences.
Moreover, the Fatah leaders are disappointed that the decision does not include prisoners with "blood on their hands" and those who are serving lengthy sentences.
"We were hoping that Israel would release prisoners who have been behind bars for more than 20 years," said Ashraf al-Ajrami, the PA Minister for Prisoners Affairs. "We welcome the decision, but it's not enough. In order to strengthen the Palestinian Authority, Israel must release prisoners who have been in prison for many years."
The prisoners issue has always been considered one of the most sensitive for the Palestinians. Families of the nearly 10,000 prisoners have long been exerting heavy pressure on the PA leadership to work hard toward freeing their offspring.
The pressure intensified after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, when many Palestinians were expecting Israel to release thousands of prisoners as a gesture to Yasser Arafat. But even when Israel released hundreds of prisoners, including some with Jewish blood on their hands, the Palestinians still complained that the move was insufficient.
"The Israeli decision [to release 250 Fatah prisoners] is a humiliation for Abbas and the entire Palestinian people," said Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip. "The release of prisoners who are about to complete their sentences won't help Abbas. The Palestinians won't buy this deception."
The families of the remaining prisoners are likely to step up their pressure on Abbas following the release of these inmates. And when he fails to deliver, Abbas's credibility will be dealt yet another blow. As a senior Fatah official admitted on Sunday, "The release of the Fatah prisoners could only make matters worse for us, because it will look as if Israel is rewarding Fatah for agreeing to collaborate with the Israelis and Americans."