Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the expected resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians after a four-year stalemate.
Speaking at the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said negotiations with the Palestinians are a “vital strategic interest” of Israel.
He said the talks will be difficult and any final agreement would be brought to a national referendum.
Israeli and Palestinian chief negotiators are due to meet in Washington soon with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who on Friday announced an agreement had been reached establishing a basis for the resumption of direct final status negotiations. The officials will try to hammer out the framework for resumed peace talks, but disagreements have already emerged over the borders of a future Palestinian state.
The Palestinians say they have received written guarantees from Kerry that negotiations will be based on borders that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Palestinian spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh says Israel must withdraw from territories it captured in 1967, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Abu Rudeineh said that Secretary Kerry understands the Palestinian position, which is the end of the Israeli occupation and a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.
But Israel says the ’67 lines are indefensible.
Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel has not and will not make any commitments on the 1967 borders.
Israel’s longstanding position is that it will keep major Jewish settlements in the West Bank in any final peace agreement, and that it will never withdraw from East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City and Judaism’s holiest sites.
So the planned new peace talks face major obstacles on the thorniest issues of the conflict, including borders, Jerusalem, Jewish settlements and Palestinian refugees.
According to a report in Ha’aretz, Israel is planning to free some 82 of the 103 Palestinians sentenced to prison terms in Israel before the Oslo Accords were first signed in 1993, as part of the gestures to the Palestinian Authority in the context of the renewal of peace talks. The prisoners will not all be released immediately but rather in four different stages during the talks.
All the prisoners to be released have already served between 20-35 years in prison, most being Fatah members. Defense officials believe that most of them will not constitute a future risk, taking into account their age and the slim chance that they will resume terrorist activity after their release.
These “Fatah Elders” have awaited their release during previous goodwill gestures and prisoner-swaps, such as the 2003 deal in return for the bodies of three missing Israel Defense Forces soldiers and abducted IDF Col. (res.) Elhanan Tenenbaum; the 2008 deal for the return of the bodies of two reserve soldiers; and the Gilad Shalit deal of 2011.
Most of the prisoners whose release has been denied are Israeli citizens. Israel maintains a long-standing position that it cannot allow the PA to “own” Israeli citizens or represent them in prisoner deals.
It was reported by Arutz Sheva that Israel asked for the release of Jonathan Pollard from an American prison in return for releasing the Palestinian prisoners.
The Americans turned the deal down.
The three way deal was reported on Israel’s Channel Two on Monday night, and was made in recent days during the shuttle diplomacy U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his staff was engaged in. Kerry conveyed the request to Washington, where officials rejected it, Channel Two said.
According to Channel Two, Netanyahu made the terrorist release conditional on Pollard’s release in order to convince right wing ministers to support the deal, without which negotiations with the PA would not take off.
Even as the Israeli Prime Minister prepares to make concessions, a senior PLO official, Yasser Abed Rabbo, said on Sunday, July 21, that the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership has not yet decided to return to negotiations with Israel, according to a report on Arutz Sheva. The decision depends on the PA’s receiving clarifications on certain matters that are still unresolved, he said, and some of these are “substantive.”
Speaking with Voice of Palestine radio, Abed Rabbo said that the United States negotiators have promised to give the PA negotiators answers to their questions in the meeting that is planned to take place in Washington at week’s end, between the PA’s Saeb Erekat and Israel’s Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho.
Abed Rabbo was asked if the unanswered questions include the “source of authority” of the negotiations, the release of PA terror prisoners and U.S. assurances, and did not rule out that this was the case.
PA news agency WAFA reported that PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas spoke by telephone Sunday with Turkish president Abdullah Gol, and discussed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to restart peace talks between Israel and the PA. He reportedly also spoke with British Foreign Minister William Hague on the same matter.
Despite the PA’s denial, Israel’s Channel 2 reported Sunday that both sides have agreed to accept Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, as a mediator during talks.
Indyk is Vice President and Director for Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C, and served as U.S. ambassador to Israel and Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs during the Clinton Administration.
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