Saeb Erekat: U.S. Promised Israel Will Free 30 Prisoners by End of March

Palestinian chief negotiator, back from Washington, says no draft of the framework agreement has been issued.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Sunday, after returning from a visit to the United States, that the Palestinians received a commitment from the Americans that Israel will on March 29 release 30 Palestinian prisoners serving time in Israeli prisons, the fourth and final stage in the release of long-time prisoners who were convicted before the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Erekat said the prisoner release has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and emphasized that the Palestinians will not take any unilateral action in the United Nations for the nine-month scheduled duration of the talks, which ends April 29.

Erekat, who flew to Washington with Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj, said that in contradiction to recent news reports, the Palestinians have not yet received a written draft of the negotiations framework agreement. He also firmly denied reports that the United States had proposed establishing the capital of the future Palestinian state in the neighborhood of Beit Hanina rather than in all of East Jerusalem. Erekat confirmed that discussions and the presentation of ideas on all outstanding issues continued, particularly with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and special envoy Martin Indyk.

Palestinian figures on Sunday morning pointed to remarks by State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki, according to which the negotiations were not over and no framework agreement has yet been reached. Psaki said the State Department would enable the talks to continue and would see where they led.

Psaki also said that the Palestinians’ recognition of Israel as a Jewish state was not a precondition for talks. While the United States recognized Israel as a Jewish state, she said, it was up to the Israelis and the Palestinians to decide on the formula agreeable to both sides at the end of the process. American administration officials were aware of both sides’ positions and of the statements of both Netanyahu and Abbas in this context, which were not surprising, but still would not deter the American administration or Kerry from continuing their efforts.

A member of the PLO Executive Committee told Haaretz over the weekend that the Palestinian leadership, including Fatah’s executive committee and central committee, had not received information or an official statement from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) regarding the measures he would take after the April 29 scheduled end of the talks. “It seems Abu Mazen will wait for the end of his visit to the United States and his meeting with President Obama in about 10 days, at which point he will decide where he is headed. Then he will have to make a decision or continue the talks on the basis of agreements formed with the Americans, which could be the basis for later talks, mainly about the core issues, or present a new formula. But the expectation is that Abu Mazen will not try to break the rules at this stage.”

Some figures within the Palestine Liberation Organization are pressuring Abbas to request international intervention from the UN. An international conference along the lines of the Geneva Conference has also been proposed.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, shakes hands with Palestinian lead negotiator Saeb Erekat, left, and State Department Mideast advisor Martin Indyk, March 3, 2014.Credit: AP

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