Yesterday, Israel released the first of four tranches of Palestinian prisoners. The decision to release prisoners sparked some controversy both inside and outside Israel. In this context, it seems like an opportune moment to review Israel's own freely-undertaken commitments, some never implemented, regarding the release of Palestinian prisoners.
May 4, 1994: The Gaza-Jericho agreement
1. Upon the signing of this Agreement, Israel will release, or turn over, to the Palestinian Authority within a period of 5 weeks, about 5,000 Palestinian detainees and prisoners, residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Those released will be free to return to their homes anywhere in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. Prisoners turned over to the Palestinian Authority shall be obliged to remain in the Gaza Strip or the Jericho Area for the remainder of their sentence.
2. After the signing of this Agreement, the two Parties shall continue to negotiate the release of additional Palestinian prisoners and detainees, building on agreed principles.
3. The implementation of the above measures will be subject to the fulfillment of the procedures determined by Israeli law for the release and transfer of detainees and prisoners.
Sept. 28, 1995: Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, Article XVI
1. Israel will release or turn over to the Palestinian side, Palestinian detainees and prisoners, residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The first stage of release of these prisoners and detainees will take place on the signing of this Agreement and the second stage will take place prior to the date of the elections. There will be a third stage of release of detainees and prisoners. Detainees and prisoners will be released from among categories detailed in Annex VII (Release of Palestinian Prisoners and Detainees). Those released will be free to return to their homes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Sept. 28, 1995: Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, Annex VII
1. The release of detainees and prisoners, as agreed upon in Article XVI of this Agreement will be carried out in three stages.
2. The following categories of detainees and/or prisoners will be included in the abovementioned releases:
a. all female detainees and prisoners shall be released in the first stage of release;
b. persons who have served more than two thirds of their sentence;
c. detainees and/or prisoners charged with or imprisoned for security offenses not involving fatality or serious injury;
d. detainees and/or prisoners charged with or convicted of non-security criminal offenses; and
e. citizens of Arab countries being held in Israel pending implementation of orders for their deportation.
3. Detainees and prisoners from among the categories detailed in this paragraph, who meet the criteria set out in paragraph 2 above, are being considered by Israel to be eligible for release:
a. prisoners and/or detainees aged 50 years and above;
b. prisoners and/or detainees under 18 years of age;
c. prisoners who have been imprisoned for 10 years or more; and
d. sick and unhealthy prisoners and/or detainees.
4. The third stage of release will take place during the permanent status negotiations and will involve the categories set out above, and may explore further categories.
The two Sides shall establish a joint committee that shall follow-up on matters related to release of Palestinian prisoners.
The Government of Israel shall release Palestinian and other prisoners who committed their offences prior to September 13, 1993, and were arrested prior to May 4, 1994. The Joint Committee shall agree on the names of those who will be released in the first two stages. Those lists shall be recommended to the relevant Authorities through the Monitoring and Steering Committee;
The first stage of release of prisoners shall be carried out on September 5, 1999 and shall consist of 200 prisoners. The second stage of release of prisoners shall be carried out on October 8, 1999 and shall consist of 150 prisoners;
The joint committee shall recommend further lists of names to be released to the relevant Authorities through the Monitoring and Steering Committee;
The Israeli side will aim to release Palestinian prisoners before next Ramadan.