Senior Palestinian Source: No Peace Talks Unless Veteran Prisoners Are Released

Partial release of prisoners will be received with anger on the Palestinian street, and would be seen as a concession by the PA, source tells Haaretz.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The Palestinians will not take part in peace talks scheduled to begin in Washington on Tuesday, unless Israel commits to releasing veteran Palestinian prisoners, a senior Palestinian source has told Haaretz.

The source, who is close to the negotiations, confirmed to Haaretz Thursday that chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat had had been invited by the Americans to meet with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in the United States, but added that America had specified that the basis for resuming talks was the 1967 borders.

He maintained, however, that the Palestinians would not participate in negotiations without a prior decision by Israel to release Palestinian prisoners imprisoned since before the Oslo Accords, including those with Israeli citizenship.

Any partial release of prisoners will be received with anger by the Palestinian street and would be seen as a concession to which the Palestinian Authority is committed, the source added.

"Netanyahu did not say '67 and did not say a settlement freeze and did not agree to release the veteran prisoners. In such a situation, it is impossible to begin the talks," the source said.

"We have made it clear to the Americans that it won't be possible to begin the talks without a commitment to that effect by Israel," the source said. He added that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had "clarified several times that we will not accept dividing the prisoners into categories and that all the veteran prisoners, irrespective of their place of residence, must be released."

Erekat, he said, would not have a mandate to leave for Washington without such a commitment.

Of the 103 prisoners in question, 14 are Israeli citizens, several of them among the longest incarcerated.

Energy and Water Resources Minister Silvan Shalom told reporters in Jericho on Thursday that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will resume next week in Washington.

Shalom had been meeting in Jericho with Erekat to discuss the possibility of renewing peace talks, which broke down in late 2010.

He made the announcement at a press conference Thursday following the dedication of a joint industrial zone in Jericho that was initiated and funded by the Japanese government. The industrial zone will be operated by Palestinians, and its products sold to Jordan.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is responsible for the Israeli government's negotiations with the Palestinians, is expected to participate in the Washington meeting. Also expected to participate is the prime minister's personal envoy, Isaac Molho.

According to senior officials in Jerusalem, the meeting in Washington is expected to deal primarily with the agenda for holding negotiations, including the subjects to be discussed and the timetable. The talks are expected to last about nine months, and to open with discussions of both the borders of the Palestinian state and Israel's security demands.

In advance of the meeting, the Israeli cabinet is expected Sunday to approve the release of 82 Palestinian prisoners who were involved in attacks against Israel and who have been in prison since the pre-Oslo Accords period. The prisoners are expected to be released in four rounds over eight to nine months.

At the same cabinet meeting, the ministers are also expected to approve a bill that would require a national referendum over any peace agreement with the Palestinians.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas attending a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah, July 18, 2013.Credit: AP

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