JERUSALEM - The Israeli government on Sunday approved freeing 104 Palestinian prisoners despite popular sentiment against such a release ahead of talks with Palestinian officials in Washington.
Before his weekly Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged his government to vote in favor of the prisoner release despite reservations.
"This moment is not easy for me. It is not easy for the ministers," he said. "It is not easy especially for the families, the bereaved families, whose heart I understand. But there are moments in which tough decisions must be made for the good of the country, and this is one of those moments."
The measure passed 14-6 with two abstentions
Also at Sunday's meeting, the Cabinet approved the opening of diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinians and authorized a team headed by Netanyahu and four other top ministers to run the prisoner release.
The votes were designed to build confidence and help kick-start Israeli-Palestinian talks set to start Tuesday in Washington. The first of four waves of releases is slated to come after the negotiations get under way.
Some observers see recent displays of goodwill, such as this vote, as signs that the upcoming round of peace talks could prove fruitful.
Comments by top diplomats have sparked hopes as well.
On July 20, while in Jordan, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for their "courageous leadership," saying they had chosen to make difficult decisions that establish "a basis for resuming direct final status negotiations."
But it's not just in the hands of politicians. The Israeli Cabinet approved a measure stating that any agreement with the Palestinians will be submitted to the Israeli people for a vote.