Abbas Agrees to Extend Talks if Israel Freezes Settlements, Frees Prisoners

Palestinian official says release of next batch of prisoners 'good test of Israel's seriousness;' group of Palestinian, Israeli leaders back Arab peace plan.

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Haaretz
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U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (L) at the White House in Washington March 17, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (L) at the White House in Washington March 17, 2014.Credit: Reuters
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Haaretz

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has agreed to extend peace talks with Israel if certain conditions are met, the independent Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported on Monday.

Quoting an unnamed Palestinian official, Ma'an said that Abbas had agreed to an extension during his meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington last week. The agreement is conditional on an Israeli undertaking to freeze settlement construction and release more prisoners.

The release by Israel of the last of four groups of prisoners it agreed to free before talks began in July would be a good test of Israel's serious about making concessions, the Palestinian official said.

So far, 78 of 104 Palestinian veteran prisoners have been freed in three groups, with the final 26 to be released on March 29. However, recent statements by Israeli officials have cast doubt on whether the prisoners would be released on time, if at all.

The official said that if Israel delayed the release of the last group of pre-Oslo prisoners, the Palestinian Authority would immediately take the case to international organizations.

Peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians were re-launched in July under the auspices of the U.S. after nearly three years of impasse.

Group of Palestinian, Israeli leaders back Arab plan

Meanwhile, a group of Israeli and Palestinian politicians have banded together to urge the Arab League to renew a comprehensive peace offer to Israel.

The group says it hopes to pressure negotiators in U.S.-backed peace talks to support the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. The plan offers Israel peace with the Arab and Muslim world in exchange for a withdrawal from all territories captured in the 1967 Six Day War.

In a letter released Monday, the group said the initiative "provides the fundamental foundation for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace." The Arab League is holding a summit in Kuwait this week.

Known as the Prague Forum, the group consists of Israelis, Palestinians and other Arab parliamentarians. It was unveiled after over 40 politicians and leaders began secret meetings in Prague in February.

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