Israel agrees to free Palestinian prisoners in order to resume peace talks
Minister Yuval Steinitz says some 'heavyweight' inmates to be released; adds that Palestinian Authority pledged to negotiate for nine months, refrain from pursuing action against Israel internationally.
Israel has agreed to a long-standing Palestinian demand to release Palestinian prisoners in order to resume peace talks, but will not yield on other central issues, Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Yuval Steinitz said on Saturday.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that Israel and the Palestinians had laid the groundwork to resume peace talks after an almost three-year stalemate, but he warned that the deal was not final and required more diplomacy.
"There will be some release of prisoners," Steinitz told Israel Radio. "I don't want to give numbers but there will be heavyweight prisoners who have been in jail for tens of years," he said. The release would be carried out in phases, he added.
Steinitz insisted that this measure doesn't compromise other principles stipulated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the talks. A settlement construction moratorium remains out of the question, and no preliminary guarantees are to be made with regard to a future Palestinian state's borders.
According to the minister, the Palestinians have pledged to take part in negotiations over the course of at least nine months, as well as to avoid pursuing action against Israel internationally.
Steinitz told Israel Radio that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas isn't enthused about the impending resumption of the negotiations and was "dragged" into the process against his will. The minister posited that Abbas' behavior raises doubt over his willingness to make the concessions necessary for a peace agreement.
The Palestinians have long demanded that Israel free prisoners who have been held in Israeli jails since before 1993, the year the two sides signed the Oslo Accords - a interim deal that was intended to lead to an independent state the Palestinians seek in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinians, with international backing, have said negotiations over their future state must have borders approximating the boundaries of those territories before Israel captured them in a 1967 Middle East War.