Justice Minister Tzipi Livni warned Tuesday that the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners – set to be freed at the end of March as part of the agreement to resume negotiations – will not be released if Israel and the Palestinians have not reached a broad framework agreement by then.
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“The prison keys are in the hands of [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas and the decisions he makes over the next few days,” Livni said, in what seemed to be an attempt to put pressure on Abbas to accept the U.S. framework agreement.
The justice minister, also one of Israel’s key representatives in the peace talks, was speaking at the Negev Conference in Sderot.
At the start of his meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday, Abbas said he expected Israel to honor its commitments and release the fourth group of prisoners – all jailed from before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Abbas said that the release would be a sign that Israel’s intentions were serious.
Livni said that Israel had never promised to release Israeli Arab prisoners as part of the talks with the Palestinians. “There was never an automatic commitment that was not connected to the state of the talks and what would happen by the release date,” she said.
“It will soon be decided whether there is a basis for continuing the talks," she added. "Serious talks are based on fundamental understandings and a broad understanding of the substance of the solution for the core issues. Israel does not want barren talks whose only purpose is to play for time and avoid making decisions.”