PA Offered to Drop Settlement Freeze for pre-Oslo Prisoners

Israel has rejected the proposal, concerned that the PA may then present new conditions even after an agenda has been set.

The Palestinian Authority conveyed to Israel through Quartet officials a new proposal for jump-starting peace talks. A senior Israeli official familiar with the proposal's details says the Palestinians have agreed to forgo a freeze on settlement construction as a pre-condition to resume talks in exchange for the release of more than 100 Palestinian prisoners incarcerated in Israel from before the Oslo Accords.

However, Israel has rejected the proposal, concerned that the PA may then present new conditions even after an agenda has been set.

The new Palestinian proposal comes after heavy pressure on PA President Mahmoud Abbas by the Quartet - the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - to meet its three-month deadline of January 26 to resume substantive talks on borders and security arrangements.

"There is real concern that after the deadline, Abu Mazen [Abbas] will go back to some move or other in the United Nations. At the same time, Abu Mazen will need to decide for or against a unity government with Hamas," a senior Israeli official said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's adviser Isaac Molho and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, were to have met two months ago to decide on an agenda.

Israel is concerned that if it releases prisoners, even after the preparatory meeting, the Palestinians will seek new conditions or stop the talks. There is some basis for their concern, as the Palestinians are said to consider the next step a "renewal of talks" on a basis for future negotiations.

When Quartet officials arrived in the region on October 26 for planned separate meetings with the parties, they realized that neither side wanted to renew the process.

The Palestinians have since refused both a Netanyahu-Abbas meeting as well as the Molho-Erekat meeting, unless Israel stopped settlement-building and agreed to negotiate based on the 1967 borders and exchanges of territories.

The Quartet has told the Palestinians that they would also have to present their latest proposal directly to Israeli officials.

Molho has told the Quartet that Israel will submit its own proposal only after two or three months of intense meetings with the Palestinians.

The Palestinians are saying the three-month deadline is up on January 26, while Israel says the countdown to the deadline has not started, because the parties have held no meetings yet.