A Palestinian minister said on Monday evening that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected an offer by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to release security prisoners in exchange for the renewal of peace talks.
Palestinian Authority Minister of Prisoner Affairs Issa Qaraqe confirmed a Haaretz report that Netanyahu made an offer to release initially 25 Palestinian security prisoners convicted of murdering Israelis and the subsequent release of another 100 prisoners over four stages by the end of 2012.
Qaraqe said that Abbas rejected Netanyahu's offer, demanding instead that the prisoners be released at once and not over various stages.
"Abu Mazen (Abbas) demanded that all 123 prisoners incarcerated in Israel since before the Oslo Accords be released simultaneously," said Qaraqe. "Abu Mazen rejected Netanyahu's offer and called on the Israeli government to implement past agreements made with the ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who promised to release numerous prisoners."
Netanyahu also responded to the Haaretz report on Monday, during a press conference held by Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon. "I do not intend to make a unilateral gesture, certainly not for a meeting," said Netanyahu. "I want to renew negotiations, but Abu Mazen (Abbas) missed the chance. His visit to Tehran certainly does not advance peace, especially given what they say there."
Furthermore, Channel 2 news reported on Monday evening that Netanyahu did indeed make an offer to Abbas to release dozens of Palestinian prisoners incarcerated in Israeli prisoners since before the Oslo Accords, however demanded that in return the Palestinian president commit to not pursuing unilateral moves at the United Nations General Assembly to upgrade the status of the Palestinian Authority from observer to non-member.
Haaretz also revealed on Monday morning that Netanyahu is said to be willing to provide weapons to the Palestinian security forces, particularly because Israel's defense establishment supports such a move.
In addition, two Israeli sources and two Western diplomats, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, all confirmed that Netanyahu's representative, Isaac Molho, was representing Israel in contacts with the PA's negotiations chief Saeb Erekat.
Molho and Erekat met last week in Jerusalem for several hours and have also spoken by phone a few times.
The Palestinians have set two conditions for a meeting with Netanyahu. The first is the release of 123 prisoners incarcerated in Israel since before the Oslo Accords. Most of these prisoners are Fatah members who have now been in prison for between 25 and 35 years, after being convicted of involvement in terror attacks in which Israelis were killed. The second condition is that the PA security forces in the West Bank be supplied with new weapons.
Molho reportedly told Erekat that Israel would make no gestures before a Netanyahu-Abbas meeting took place, but would agree to announce such concessions after, and perhaps even during, such an encounter.
Israel said any gestures it takes would have to be implemented over a period of a few months.
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