Israel Frees 255 Palestinian Prisoners

Israel freed 255 Palestinian prisoners in an attempt to strengthen the hand of Fatah in its power struggle with Hamas.

Israel released more than 250 Palestinian prisoners Friday, aiming to bolster embattled President Mahmoud Abbas in his power struggle with the Islamic militants of Hamas, which took control of Gaza by force last month.

Several thousand chanting, clapping Palestinians greeted the prisoners as their buses rolled into Abbas’ headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Prisoners — almost all from Abbas’ Fatah movement — were hoisted onto the shoulders of dancing supporters, before they performed noon prayers in a large, open-sided tent. “This is the beginning,” said Abbas, wearing a black-and-white checkered scarf, a symbol of Palestinian nationalism. “Efforts must continue. Our work must continue until every prisoner returns to the his home.”

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Israel holds about 9,200 Palestinian prisoners, most of whom were arrested during the past seven years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting. Almost every Palestinian family has had a member in Israeli jails at some point, and the fate of the prisoners is one of the most emotionally charged issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, Israel refuses to free inmates serving time for wounding or killing Israelis. None of the prisoners being freed Friday was directly involved in attacks on Israelis, according to Israeli officials.

Given that these were non-violent offenders, there’s likely to be little direct harm here and it’s not inconceivable that it will achieve its desired effect. It seems more likely, though, to demonstrate how powerful Hamas is and prove, once again, that terrorism is the only way to get concessions from the Israelis. And, if the fear of Hamas coming back to power got Israel to do this, just think what Hamas could achieve given free reign?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Michael says:

    So, supporting the enemy of my enemy, is good for my enemy? Israel would rather have Fatah in power than Hamas, and to that extent they are giving political aid to Fatah (as well as resources by releases Fatah members). How can you possibly consider this appeasement?




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  2. James Joyner says:

    So, supporting the enemy of my enemy, is good for my enemy? Israel would rather have Fatah in power than Hamas, and to that extent they are giving political aid to Fatah (as well as resources by releases Fatah members). How can you possibly consider this appeasement?

    Hamas can certainly sell it that way. After all, Israel wasn’t doing this for Fatah without Hamas stirring the pot and using violence.




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  3. Michael says:

    Hamas can certainly sell it that way. After all, Israel wasn’t doing this for Fatah without Hamas stirring the pot and using violence.

    It’s certainly true that this action was spurred by Hamas’ actions, but that doesn’t mean it’s in any way beneficial to Hamas. Hamas didn’t spin it as a victory for them when Israel released tax money to Abbas, or when they let exiled Palestinian leaders in to meet with Abbas. I think it’s pretty clear to everyone that Israel’s actions are a direct attack on Hamas’ legitimacy as a Palestinian government, I don’t think they can spin that otherwise.




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  4. James Joyner says:

    I think it’s pretty clear to everyone that Israel’s actions are a direct attack on Hamas’ legitimacy as a Palestinian government, I don’t think they can spin that otherwise.

    I can’t imagine they’d want to. Painting Fatah as lackeys of the Israelis serves their interests, after all.




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  5. DC Loser says:

    The Arab Street will see this as a sellout by Fatah to maintain their status and provide Hamas the legitimacy it has sought as the only part of the PA that’s resisting the Israelis.




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  6. Michael says:

    I can’t imagine they’d want to. Painting Fatah as lackeys of the Israelis serves their interests, after all.

    Hamas has always complained about Fatah being corrupt and ineffective, not being lackeys to the Israelis. It would be interesting if they tried to spin it that way, but they would still have to overcome cult of Arafat to paint all of Fatah with that brush.

    Hamas’ platforms seems to have been that they are one ones that get things done for the people, through their charities and such, that is where they grew there support. Now that they are in charge, those same people are not getting paid, have no representation, and their family and friends are not the ones being freed from Israeli prisons. I can’t think of a better way for Israel to destroy Hamas’ public support than through actions like this.




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  7. Bithead says:

    This is really “catch and release” program, seems counterproductive to me. Granted, that Hamas is a problem. But the best I can tell you is that the only difference between Hamas and Fatah, is the speed with which they will kill off Israelis, individually, and Israel as a country.

    Or has that situation changed? Has Fatah sworn off it’s desire to push Israel off the face of the map?




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  8. Michael says:

    Or has that situation changed? Has Fatah sworn off it’s desire to push Israel off the face of the map?

    Fatah recognizes Israel’s right to exist, and seeks a peaceful two-state solution. So yeah, I guess the situation has changed.




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