Senior Israeli Official: Deal on Settlement Freeze for Pollard's Release Nearly Sealed

A proposed deal to extend peace talks includes release of Israeli spy ahead of Passover holiday; Kerry to return to Jerusalem, Ramallah on Wednesday.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Kerry and Netanyahu at a press conference in Jerusalem, January 2, 2014.
Kerry and Netanyahu at a press conference in Jerusalem, January 2, 2014.Credit: Reuters
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sealed most of the details of the deal to extend peace talks in their meeting on Tuesday morning, senior Israeli officials said.

The U.S. is now working to secure the Palestinians' approval for the deal. "Things are not sealed yet but we are not far from it," said a senior Israeli official with knowledge of the negotiation details. "We are waiting for the Palestinians' response."

The official said that the proposed deal will include the following clauses: 1) The Palestinians will agree to extend the negotiations by a year – into 2015 – and avoid unilateral moves at the UN; 2) The U.S. will release Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard before the Passover holiday; 3) Israel will release the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners which will include 14 Israeli Arab prisoners; 4) Israel will release another 400 Palestinian prisoners "without blood on their hands" who are about to finish their sentences; Israel will choose which prisoners will be released and they will include women and minors; 5) Israel will freeze most of the construction in the settlements, with the exception of East Jerusalem and would halt government tenders, marketing of lands and planning.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, a member of the U.S. parole commission said Pollard has waived a planned parole hearing.

Commissioner Patricia Smoot says the hearing had been scheduled for Tuesday.

A parole commission administrator, Stephen Husk, says the hearing was to have been held at the prison in Butner, North Carolina, and that Pollard, who is imprisoned there, would have attended. Husk declined further comment.

State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki announced later Tuesday that Kerry will return to Jerusalem and Ramallah on Wednesday in order to continue discussions on a proposed deal to extend talks. Kerry left on Tuesday morning for a NATO meeting in Brussels after he met twice with Netanyahu and once with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

On Monday, Kerry met with Netanyahu for more than three hours, immediately after landing. Following their talks, which ended at around 11:30 P.M., the secretary of state decided not to carry on to Ramallah, to meet with Abbas. Kerry did meet with the Palestinian delegation, headed by Saeb Erekat, and discussed the deal to extend the negotiations. Erekat said that without the release of the fourth group of prisoners – which includes 14 Israeli Arabs – the Palestinians will not agree to discuss the extension of the talks. Erekat stressed that the Palestinian leadership decided that if Israel won't go ahead with the fourth prisoner release, the Palestinian Authority will immediately turn to the United Nations.

A senior U.S. official told Haaretz that the U.S. would agree to free Pollard as part of a larger move that would include dramatic Israeli steps in negotiations with the Palestinians, and not only in exchange for release of prisoners, even if those include Israeli Arabs. "The key would be a big U.S. concession for a big Israeli concession," the U.S. official said.

The Daily Beast reported Monday that Kerry had proposed the idea of releasing Pollard as an incentive months ago, but faced opposition from the White House.

According to the report, the possible collapse of peace talks has prompted the U.S. government to no longer outright oppose the idea of Pollard's release.

“This is one of many things that is being discussed as a means of extending the talks,” the Daily Beast quoted the U.S. official as saying. “At the past three junctures (with the Israelis), we’ve said no, these are two separate things. Now it looks as if the Israeli strategy of trying to get us to conflate the issues has gained traction. There is White House buy in on this.”

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