Palestinian Official: Fourth Prisoner Release Would Save Talks From Crisis

Abbas pledges to send negotiator Erekat to Washington with new plan to revive negotiation if Israel frees the prisoners, says official.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Kerry, Livni and Erekat at the sidelines on the UNGA, 2013.
Kerry, Livni and Erekat at the sidelines on the UNGA, 2013.Credit: Reuters
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Israel can save the flagging peace talks with the Palestinians by going through with a fourth prisoner release, a Palestinian official close to the negotiations said Sunday.

“If Israel carries out the fourth prisoner release and frees the rest of the prisoners, including the Israeli prisoners, as has been agreed, it will be possible to continue the talks,” the official told Haaretz.

“Contrary to what Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu claims, Israel has agreed to release the Israeli prisoners whose names were included on the list of 106 prisoners submitted to Israel by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry,” he said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has pledged to send negotiator Saeb Erekat to Washington with a new plan for continuing the talks if Israel goes through with the prisoner release. But in the meantime, new conditions have been added, including the reopening of the Palestinian offices in Jerusalem and a freeze on settlement construction, even if the freeze is only partial and tacit — with no public declarations and no new tenders.

At this stage, the Palestinian demand that Jerusalem be declared the capital of a future Palestinian state is not expected to be a precondition for continuing the talks. This demand was apparently designed to counterbalance the Israeli demand for recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Depicting the prisoner release as a key condition for continuing talks is meant to stymie the Israeli effort to blame the Palestinians for halting the negotiations. It’s also meant to separate the prisoner-release agreement from the Palestinians’ other demands.

“Israel is trying to portray a false reality — one that says the talks have been halted by the Palestinian decision to join the UN conventions, which Israel views as a unilateral step,” a Palestinian official said. “That decision was only made after Netanyahu called off the fourth prisoner release.”

The official said Washington’s position is close to that of Abbas, with the full prisoner release considered a key condition for renewing talks. Israel views the prisoner release as another matter for bargaining, one whose completion requires Palestinian concessions or Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state.



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