Israel intends to revoke the citizenship of several Israeli-Arab terrorists set for release from lengthy jail terms in the coming months and has requested that the Palestinian Authority resettle them in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, PA President Mahmoud Abbas claimed on Monday. He warned that such a move would immediately end peace talks.
An Israeli spokesman said, however, that no decision had yet been taken by the cabinet on the release of any Israeli-Arab prisoners.
Addressing the consultative council of his Fatah movement in Ramallah, Abbas said that Israel has preempted the release of 16 Arab-Israeli terrorists expected to be freed as part of a four-phased deal comprising 104 pre-Oslo prisoners, by requesting that the PA resettle them in the West Bank or Gaza and that their Israeli citizenship be revoked.
Israel has consistently refused to release terrorists carrying Israeli citizenship as part of the deal, considering the Palestinian demand to do so blatant intervention in domestic Israeli affairs. The Palestinians, for their part, have argued that US Secretary of State John Kerry had promised them that all pre-Oslo prisoners would go free, including the Israelis.
“This deal, as was agreed, has nothing to do with the negotiations. We will continue with negotiations, but they will end the moment any detail of the [prisoner] deal is tampered with,” Abbas told the Fatah members, according to a report in the official WAFA news agency.
Israel had agreed to the prisoner release in return for a Palestinian commitment not to turn to international institutions during the nine-month negotiating period, Abbas stressed. If any of the Israeli prisoners are banned by Israel from returning to their homes or have their citizenship revoked, the Palestinians will “immediately” request international recourse. Israel, he said, has not yet responded.
“Yes,” Abbas emphasized, “I am defending their Israeli citizenship. They must maintain it and we will not allow it to be revoked.”
But Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev denied that Israel had agreed to the release of all 104 prisoners on the original Palestinian list. He told The Times of Israel that the cabinet has not allowed for the release of Israeli prisoners from jail, a move that would require a special government decision.
“The issue is irrelevant,” he said.
Israel has so far released 52 out of 104 Palestinian prisoners sentenced to life for perpetrating acts of terror inside Israel before the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords in September 1993. The 52 remaining prisoners, which could include 16 Israelis and four Jerusalem residents, are set to be freed in the next two phases — on December 29, 2013; and in late February 2014.
Kerry arrived in Israel on Tuesday night to discuss progress in negotiations amid a sense of pessimism on both sides. On Monday, the former chief of Israeli Military Intelligence told journalists that it would take “a miracle” for talks to produce an agreement. PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo told Palestinian Radio Monday that negotiations are stuck due to Israeli “bullying,” while Kerry brings nothing new but “recurrent promises.”
Abbas takes credit for Geneva II, prisoner release in Syria
Abbas informed the gathering that a planned conference to discuss a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis was based on a document presented by the PA, which the Americans and Russians agreed upon as a basis for talks.
The PA was also instrumental in bringing about the release of two Turkish pilots and dozens of Lebanese Shiite pilgrims in a deal on which complete details were never published, Abbas said.
Following the abduction of 11 Shiite pilgrims returning from Iran in May 2012, Abbas dispatched Palestinian ambassador to Turkey Nabil Ma’arouf to negotiate their release with the kidnapper, a man named Abu-Ibrahim, on the Syrian-Turkish border. The negotiation process, which lasted months, was carried out by the Palestinians with the blessing of Lebanon’s prime minister and speaker of the parliament.
When the prisoner release was finally executed on October 19, Syria dallied in releasing 127 Shiite women from prison as agreed, Abbas said.
“Who could speak to the Syrian regime? Turkey couldn’t do so, neither could Qatar. Official Lebanon couldn’t talk. We were the only ones who could speak,” Abbas recalled.
“We called the Syrian regime — lest someone blame me for going to meet the president of Syria, as I was on official mission — and I spoke to a man named Faisal Mekdad [Syria’s deputy foreign minister]. I asked him, ‘Why delay it? … I beg you, ask the president [Bashar Assad] to complete the deal.’ An hour later he called me and said: ‘Tomorrow they will start being released.’ And so the story ended well.”