Jerusalem, May 31 – Israel followed through Thursday in a goodwill gesture to release the bodies of 91 Palestinian terrorists for re-burial in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The move fulfilled a promise by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a letter delivered to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas two weeks ago to release the remains. The transfer is the latest in ongoing Israeli efforts to entice the Palestinians to end their policy of refusing Israeli and international calls to return to the negotiating table for peace talks with no preconditions.
"It is our hope that this humanitarian gesture will serve both as a confidence-building measure and help get the peace process back on track," Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said. "Israel is ready for the immediate resumption of peace talks without any preconditions whatsoever.”
Despite the harsh feelings the move aroused among the families of the Israeli victims, 79 bodies will be reburied in the West Bank and a dozen others in Gaza. The list includes at least nine suicide bombers and other terrorists who carried out dozens of fatal attacks on Israeli civilians.
Abbas is refusing to resume peace talks, demanding that Israel first halt all construction in disputed territories and release all Palestinian prisoners currently held in Israeli jails including those convicted for terror attacks. Israel says all matters should be discussed in direct negotiations.
Netanyahu agreed to a 10-month freeze two years ago, but the Palestinians only entered talks only a few weeks before the end of the moratorium and then immediately walked out. The Palestinians rejected Netanyahu’s demand they recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland, and refused to continue with negotiations unless Israel extended the freeze.
Different Israeli governments have over the years offered numerous confidence- building gestures and concessions in a bid to engage the Palestinians and push peace talks forward. Some of these moves included:
- Numerous prisoner releases and the exchange of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in 2011 for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit
- The 2010 construction freeze in disputed territories
- The withdrawal of all Israeli settlements and armed forces from Gaza in 2005
- The dismantling of 150 roadblocks in the West Bank and removal of army 27 checkpoints between 2008 and 2009.