As long as Israel refuses to free the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners as planned, the Palestinian Authority will not discuss extension of the peace negotiations past the late-April deadline.
Ziad Abu Ein, PA deputy minister for prisoner affairs, told Haaretz that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has clarified to the Americans that only after the group is freed – as agreed to by Israel, as part of a deal last July that allowed renewal of talks – will it be possible to address the issue of future negotiations.
Release of the group of 26 Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners, some of whom were incarcerated before the signing of the Oslo Accords over 20 years ago, was to have taken place this past weekend.
Meanwhile, a senior Fatah official who has been privy to internal Palestinian meetings declared that Israel's non-implementation of the planned move could be a fatal blow for Abbas, who promised his people that the prisoners would go free, based on a commitment from the United States.
The Israeli Arab prisoners in question originally acted on the instructions and under the auspices of Fatah and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the official explained. Therefore, he added, Abbas cannot possibly ignore them, especially as precedents for freeing Israeli Arabs were set with the 2011 deal involving release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and in the Ahmed Jibril prisoner swap in 1985.
On Sunday, Saeb Erekat, the PA’s chief negotiator, met with Martin Indyk, the U.S. special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian talks, according to Palestinian officials.
“We are witnessing a pace of work and a frequency of meetings and shuttling between Ramallah and Jerusalem that we have not seen in the last nine months," a Palestinian source reported. "But in the meantime, it seems the door is half-locked. We are expecting a development at any time."
For his part, Abbas seems to be handling the crisis with a select group of advisers, and is not commenting publicly on the matter as long as the Americans are continuing their mediation efforts.The PA president is scheduled to present an update on these efforts late Monday to members of the Fatah’s central committee and the PLO’s executive committee, but no final decisions are expected to be made by the PA for a few days.