Five days before Israel is scheduled to release its fourth batch of security prisoners, Palestinian observers say they expect the Palestinian Authority to turn to the United Nations if Israel fails to adhere to the timetable.
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“The target date of the fourth stage is a key date that can attest to the intentions of Israel. Any delay or shirking by Israel means a blatant violation of understandings, and the PA will make the appropriate decisions,” said a member of Fatah’s central committee, Mohamed Ashtiya.
Israel has already released three-quarters of the 104 prisoners it agreed last July to release in stages, as part of revived peace talks. It was agreed at the time that the release of each group would be contingent on progress in the talks.
Haaretz has learned that a team working on behalf of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has visited Ramallah over the past two days, meeting with their Palestinian counterparts ahead of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ trip to the Arab League summit in Kuwait. Palestinian observers expect Abbas to use the visit in the Persian Gulf to meet with the Saudi King Abdullah, who will meet Thursday with U.S. President Barack Obama.
The final prisoner release is planned for March 29, a month before the end of the current negotiation period. However, PA officials reject any attempt to make extending negotiations contingent on releasing veteran prisoners, and say this issue was made clear to the U.S. secretary of state and president on Abbas’ last visit to Washington.
PA officials are not showing willingness to extend the talks.
“There’s no doubt we’ve reached a very central junction in everything related to the diplomatic process, and the question keeping us Palestinians busy is not if we will extend the talks or not, but rather what the Israeli government’s intentions are,” said Ashtiya. “So far and at the end of nine months, we have gotten thousands of housing units in the settlements, the destruction of hundreds of homes and another 57 Palestinians killed. So we are asking: If we accept the offer to extend the talks, where will it lead? And what is the point of extending the talks?”
The prisoner release issue is at the top of the Palestinian leadership’s agenda. PA officials understand that they will be subject to intense internal pressure if the final stage fails to go through.
Prisoner rights activists say that if the final batch of prisoners are not freed, they will hold a huge march on Saturday in the direction of Ofer Prison, to demand their release.
Ayman Hajj Yahya, a leading Israeli Arab activist, told Radio Al-Shams in Nazareth on Monday that the Palestinian leadership is holding feverish talks with the Americans to make sure the final batch is released.
In addition, families of Israeli Arab security prisoners were furious after they received an announcement about the cancelation of the visit that was planned this week at the prison in which some of their relatives are held. The families, some of whom have relatives scheduled to be released in the final batch, say no explanation was given for the cancelation.