Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, the third most powerful politician in Netanyahu’s government, briefly joined the protest and said he is against the release.
“Terrorists should be eliminated, not freed,” he said, according to the Yedioth Ahronoth news Web site.
Bennett called Netanyahu’s move “a mark of disgrace” and tore into the Palestinian leadership. Anyone “who demands the release of people who murdered and burned children and women is not worthy of being called a ‘partner,’ ” he said.
Other members of Bennett’s Jewish Home party stood beside him and said the release was a sign of weakness, not strength, and was done to appease Washington, which they said would never stoop to releasing terrorists.
“We need to act just like the United States. They have no pity for terrorists. But we are asked to be empathetic,” Meir Indor, leader of the Almagor Terror Victims Association, said in an interview. “The Americans shouldn’t ask us to do what they wouldn’t do themselves.”
Yoni Chetboun, a member of parliament from Bennett’s party who was at the protest, told the Jerusalem Post, “A government that ignores its values so quickly just to enter negotiations will not think twice before uprooting settlements.”
What to do about the 360,000 people living in some 150 Jewish settlements in the West Bank is one of the core issues facing negotiators.
Members of Netanyahu’s party also voiced opposition. “I’m disappointed by the stance of our American allies and the West who adopt this twisted idea and see releasing murderers as something that promotes peace, and building a kindergarten as destroying peace,” Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin said in a statement.
Elkin was referring to U.S. and European opposition to further construction — of schools and houses — in settlements in the West Bank.
Orly Halpern in Jerusalem and Anne Gearan in Washington contributed to this report.