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Army Wants Fatah Prisoners Freed

Next month, the IDF will give the government a list of the gestures it recommends, including releasing additional Palestinian prisoners and perhaps transferring additional parts of the West Bank to Palestinian security control.

The army considers this necessary to help Abbas regain the upper hand in his ongoing battle with Hamas for control of the territories, since Israel’s intelligence agencies all concur that the Shalit deal, in which Hamas obtained the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one kidnapped soldier, bolstered the Islamic organization at the PA’s expense.

One senior Israeli official told Haaretz that Abbas thinks the deal was deliberately intended to strengthen Hamas and weaken him, in order to punish him for his UN bid.

One of the IDF’s proposals relates to the second stage of the Shalit deal, in which Israel will free another 550 prisoners of its own choosing. While the list has not yet been drawn up, it seems that most will be low-level terrorists belonging to Abbas’ Fatah party, and the army deems the Fatah affiliation critical.

The army also proposes that Israel release additional prisoners beyond these 550 as a gesture to Abbas in honor of Id al-Adha, the Muslim holiday that falls in another two weeks.

Another proposal is to transfer part of what is known as Area B – areas of the West Bank that, according to the Oslo Accords, are under Palestinian civilian control but Israeli security control – to Area A, which is under full Palestinian control. Most of the territory the army favors transferring is in the northern West Bank, between Jenin, Nablus and Tul Karm, as this area has few Israeli settlements.

A fourth idea is returning the bodies of slain terrorists to the PA. That was supposed to have happened a few months ago, but was canceled at the last minute on orders from Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Senior PA officials have said in recent days that the principal gesture they want from Israel is the release of Fatah terrorists who have been imprisoned since before the 1993 Oslo Accords. They also said they have had several discussions with Israel recently about transferring additional territory to Area A, but all have gone nowhere.

In the past, Barak has voiced support for far-reaching gestures toward Abbas. But Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has consistently opposed the idea and Netanyahu is unenthusiastic. Thus, when the army proposed gestures to the PA in the run-up to last month’s UN bid, with the goal of calming the atmosphere and preventing an explosion, the government rejected the proposal.

With the Shalit deal concluded, the IDF is hoping the government will be more amenable. But given Jerusalem’s anger at Abbas’ statehood bid, that seems doubtful.

For more, go to Haaretz.com

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