Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded an Israeli settlement freeze and continued prisoner releases as his conditions for continuing with US-brokered peace talks past a late-April deadline for their conclusion, the Palestinian news site Ma’an reported Monday.
According to an unnamed PA official, the Palestinian leader made the offer during his meeting with US President Barack Obama in Washington last week.
A good test of Israel’s willingness to make concessions, according to the official, is whether it implements the release of the last of the four groups of prisoners it agreed to free before talks began, Ma’an reported.
The Palestinian official’s comments follow an earlier Israeli report that suggested Abbas had rejected US Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework document for continued peace talks with Israel during the meeting with Obama, and issued “three no’s” on core issues, leaving the negotiations heading for an explosive collapse.
Abbas “went to the White House and said ‘no’ to Obama,” Channel 2 news reported last week, quoting unnamed American and Israeli sources.
Specifically, the report said, Abbas rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that he recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He also refused to abandon the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” for millions of Palestinians and their descendants — a demand that, if implemented, would drastically alter Israel’s demographic balance and which no conceivable Israeli government would accept
And finally, he refused to commit to an “end of conflict,” under which a peace deal would represent the termination of any further Palestinian demands of Israel.
Kerry and top American negotiator Martin Indyk have been shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian leaders for months in an effort to keep the talks going. Those meetings are continuing even as the talks, which began in July and were given an April 29 deadline from the start, have floundered in recent weeks.
Abbas spoke to Kerry by phone Monday in the middle of a meeting with Indyk in Amman. It was the second meeting in as many days for Abbas and Indyk; the two had met on Sunday in Ramallah. Indyk also met with the Palestinian and Israeli negotiating teams over the weekend, with the latter meeting including chief negotiator Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.
Israel is slated to release the final group of 26 Palestinian prisoners on March 29, marking the fourth such release since the start of talks in July. But Palestinian indications that the PA may abandon the talks within a month of the final group’s release have led top Israeli officials to publicly suggest that the release itself be called off.
The last wave would bring to 104 the total number of released prisoners, all of whom are convicted of terrorist acts committed before the start of the Oslo peace process.
According to Ma’an, the Palestinian official warned that if Israel refused to release the final group of prisoners, the Palestinian Authority would immediately “take the case to international organizations,” a move likely to lead to the collapse of the talks.