At the weekly Cabinet meeting

(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat) 1. Ministers discussed the issue of the release of Palestinian prisoners and the criteria that were formulated by the Israel Security Agency (ISA).

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that the release of Palestinian prisoners is a very serious and complex problem because it has to do with criminals whose place is behind bars. When negotiations began with the Palestinians, Israel was presented with dozens of demands for various gestures. Israel knew to distinguish between those that had a positive internal significance for the Palestinians and those that did not; therefore, Israel rejected many requests that entailed concessions on its part without any benefit to the negotiating process. It is not so regarding prisoners. All professional assessments which were submitted to Prime Minister Sharon indicated that releasing prisoners is likely to significantly contribute to the strengthening of Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen, with whom we are negotiating. A strong Palestinian administration will be able to act more effectively against terror, and therefore, Israel has a strong interest. The Prime Minister said that he has been guided by a balance between a limited move that would take into account both the desire to move the process and the negotiations forward and – at the same time – considerations of justice, according to which criminal terrorists will be dealt to the fullest extent of the law. Prime Minister Sharon stressed that these considerations also guided ISA Director Avi Dichter towards criteria on the release of Palestinian prisoners. Prime Minister Sharon said that the recommendations to release prisoners would not apply to prisoners with blood on their hands, murderers, those who have attacked Israelis and foreign nationals, or to those who have dispatched them. Similarly, the release recommendations will not apply to those who are currently on trial or who have perpetrated exceptional attacks. ISA Director Dichter presented ministers with the guiding principles and definitions regarding considerations for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli facilities and noted that the phrase “blood on his hands” would be defined so as to include those who physically participated in attacks in which Israelis and/or foreign nationals were killed and/or injured; those who dispatched terrorists to attacks in which people were killed; those who dispatched suicide-terrorists who were apprehended before they could perpetrate their planned attacks; and potential suicide-terrorists who were dispatched to perpetrate attacks (even if the explosive device was not in their possession). In summation, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that in the security negotiating process with the Palestinians, Israel was being asked – and would yet be asked – to make concessions; we will make concessions to the Palestinians so as to facilitate progress in the security process only on matters that, in our opinion, will strengthen the Palestinians’ ability to fight terror. All professional assessments support the conclusion that releasing prisoners would strengthen Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen’s ability to fight and eliminate terror; therefore, we have positively considered a limited, qualified and measured release of prisoners. Prime Minister Sharon added that the criteria presented by ISA Director Dichter are based on an appropriate compromise between the dictates of conscience, which require that criminals be imprisoned, and the need to move forward the security negotiating process with the Palestinians, which could lead to tranquility and peace. The Prime Minister said that the release would be carried out in tightly supervised, small and measured doses in relation to proven Palestinian actions in the security sphere; in other words, if terror continues and there is no genuine Palestinian effort to fight and eliminate it – the releases will stop. The Cabinet decided to approve the criteria for releasing prisoners, as they were presented by ISA Director Dichter. Similarly, the Cabinet decided to establish a ministerial committee headed by Prime Minister Sharon that will deal with the release of Palestinian prisoners, on the date of their release, according to the then prevailing circumstances regarding the honoring of the Palestinians’ commitments – all according to the approved criteria and as per the guidelines of Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein. Justice Minster Yosef Lapid, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Public Security Minister Tzahi Hanegbi, Social Affairs Minister Zevulon Orlev and Minister Gideon Ezra will also be members of the aforementioned committee. 2. Defense Minister Mofaz briefed ministers on current security matters.