Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin called on the government not to release any Palestinian prisoners until Palestinian leaders agreed to continue the current round of peace talks past the late-April deadline for their conclusion.
Elkin was responding to chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who told Israel’s Army Radio on Sunday that he had advised PA President Mahmoud Abbas to quit the US-brokered peace talks. Abbas, however, was waiting until the final release of some two-dozen convicted terrorists from Israeli prison, a measure Israel agreed to in order to help jumpstart the talks last year. Israel has released 78 long-term prisoners since peace talks r esumed last summer; a fourth a final group of 26 prisoners, which may include Israeli Arab terrorism convicts, is set to go free in the coming weeks.
Elkin, who opposed the prisoner release when it was first announced, said Sunday that Erekat’s comments reflected longstanding Palestinian policy.
“This isn’t new. [Abbas] has said it several times, and the government of Israel has to ask itself seriously if it should release the prisoners just weeks before the talks are set to end. It’s no secret I opposed from the start the idea of prisoner releases to jumpstart talks, but even those who supported the idea should ask themselves if it’s still a good idea if talks will end in just a few weeks,” said Elkin.
Elkin added that the PA’s focus on convicted terrorists sent the wrong message.
“What’s the significance of the fact that 5% of the Palestinian Authority’s budget and 15% of its foreign aid is spent on salaries for Palestinian terrorists, where the amount of salary depends on how many Israelis you murdered?” Elkin asked.
“What message does that send, especially when we hear that the Palestinian economy lacks resources?”
Also Sunday, Israel Radio aired an interview with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which the Israeli leader said any positive result from the US-brokered talks would require at least another year of negotiations.
In the interview, recorded last week during Netanyahu’s visit to California but first broadcast on Sunday morning, the prime minister said a framework deal being drafted by the Americans, which he recently said will only represent Washington’s positions, could offer “a possible path to advance the talks,” but “it will take at least a year to see the talks through to their conclusion.”
The Palestinians may still reject the American framework plan, he added.
In remarks aired Friday by Channel 2 news, Netanyahu said the Palestinians were “a very long way” from being ready for a peace deal.