Monday, July 06, 2020

Peace talks on brink of collapse after canceled prisoner release

By Jan Walraven - April 01, 2014
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [negotiations] [Peace Process]

A relative holds a photograph of Palestinian prisoner Jamil Nabi Annatsheh, ahead of his release from an Israeli prison, in the West Bank city of Hebron. (Ammam Awad/Reuters)
The Israeli government refused to release a group of 26 veteran  Palestinian prisoners on Saturday 29 March originally arranged under an agreement which brought the two sides back to the negotiation table back in July 2013 . The coalition government of PM Netanyahu is demanding a clear commitment from the Palestinian Authority (PA) to extend the peace talks beyond the 29 April deadline, before proceeding with the release of the fourth and final group of prisoners.
This new development has put  the current round of peace talks on the brink of collapse, spurring an impromptu visit from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Jerusalem on Monday 31 March for meetings with both Israeli PM Netanyahu and top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
The release of 104 prisoners, all incarcerated before the 1993 Oslo agreements, was part of the original terms to which the two sides agreed before re-launching negotiations in July of last year. In exchange for Israel’s promise to release the prisoners, the PA guaranteed it would hold off on its efforts to gain international recognition of the state of Palestine at the United Nations. 
Talking to Netanyahu on Monday, Kerry reportedly considered offering the release of jailed Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard as an incentive. This remarkable and controversial concession from the U.S. could only be implemented in return for a large Israeli concession. This would include the release of 26 high-profile and 400 low-profile Palestinian prisoners, next to a stop on issuing tenders for settlement construction outside East-Jerusalem. This unofficial settlement freeze would not mean a complete halt on settlement construction, but it is hoped to be strong enough to convince Palestinian negotiators.
The release of 59-year old Pollard, an American citizen convicted of spying for Israel is very controversial and would need the approval of U.S. President Obama. In the past, Obama and his predecessors have always refused to allow for Pollard's release, despite the fact that it has been a longstanding Israeli request. Considering Pollard's release to save the faltering peace talks now could be a last-ditch effort by the U.S. to save the peace talks from collapsing definitively.
According to Haaretz, Saeb Erekat, the head of the Palestinian negotiating delegation, told Kerry that they will not agree on extending talks unless Israel completes its promised fourth release of prionsers. In the absence of such a release, Erekat said, the PA will be forced to immediately restart its statehood bid at the United Nations.
Israeli coalition splits on prisoner release
According to a report by the Times of Israel, the Israeli government has not yet approved the latest prisoner release because Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu supposedly fears such a move might bring on the collapse of his right wing coalition government. Cabinet members from the Jewish Home party and the Yisrael Beitenu party are the fiercest opponents of the latest (or further) release of Palestinian prisoners.
On Sunday, Netanyahu handed over a proposal to extend the peace talks to the PA, saying that the fate of the peace talks will be decided in the next few days. "In any case, there won't be any deal without Israel knowing clearly what it will get in exchange (for the promised prisoner release)," Netanyahu said according to Ma'an News Agency
In return for the fourth round of the prisoner release, in addition to the release of additional prisoners to be chosen by Israel, the Israeli government has asked the PA to withhold from taking unilateral actions in UN institutions. 

The terms on which Palestinians are willing to extend negotiations are known: an end to settlement building in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the ability to carry out large infrastructural projects in Area C, which is under full Israeli control. 

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