Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has announced that he is willing to form a comittee to re-examine the criteria that have hamstrung prisoner swap negotiations with Hamas.

Israeli Daily Ha’aretz reported that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is ready to add more names of a list of Palestinian prisoners who would be included in a potential prisoner swap deal in an attempt to jumpstart negotiations for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

The soldier was captured by Hamas fighters in Gaza after a raid in 2006. Indirect negotiations for his release have been ongoing ever since, most recently suspended 3 weeks ago amidst the failure to successfully implement the Egypt-brokered ceasefire that came into effect in June.

Israel has thus far approved the release of 70 of the 450 prisoners demanded by Hamas in a potential deal. A much larger percentage of the total number could be included if the criteria are relaxed further. Earlier attempts to include more prisoners in the swap have been unsuccessful.

The Issue hinges on the status of prisoners who are classified by the Israeli government as having ‘blood on their hands.’ Olmert has pushed for the creation of a committee that would re-examine these criterions in the hopes of securing the release of the captured soldier. As it stands, any Palestinian who has taken part in an operation that leads to the loss of Jewish life qualifies for this category, and is ineligible for release.

This sweeping definition has burdened Israeli negotiators for years. Because Palestinian resistance organizations are considered terrorist groups under Israeli law, they do not discriminate between soldiers, commanders and civilians. It is unclear what direction a renegotiation of their status would take. Israeli leaders insist that any potential changes would selectively apply to the negotiations for the release of this captured soldier and would not be otherwise applicable.

Today more than 11,000 Palestinians are being held in Israeli jails without charges as political detainees, including a number of children who have been born in captivity, the youngest among them being a 3-month-old baby. Regular meetings of the Palestinian Prisoners Society take place near the Red Cross headquarters in Bethlehem on Thursdays in solidarity with detainees.