Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat dismissed reports Thursday night that Israel and the PA were on the verge of a breakthrough that would allow talks to continue beyond their upcoming April 29 deadline.
“Reports of progress are false,” Erekat said in an interview with the Palestinian newspaper al-Ayyam. “The gaps remain very wide.”
Channel 2 reported Thursday, based on a source in Washington, that Israel and the Palestinians were close to finalizing a deal that would see peace talks extended by nine months.
But a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel Thursday evening that reports on progress in the stalled talks were unfounded.
“The reports are unknown to us. As far as we know, we haven’t overcome the crisis,” the official said. However, talks between Israeli, American and Palestinian officials took place and will continue, the official added.
Erekat met with his Israeli counterpart, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and US special envoy Martin Indyk late Thursday afternoon to negotiate the terms for extending talks. Also present were Benjamin Netanyahu confidant Yitzhak Molcho and Palestinian intelligence chief Majed Farah, a Palestinian source close to the talks told AFP.
Officials indicated that those terms would be similar to an earlier proposal, under which Israel would agree to release a fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners, including Israeli Arabs — three rounds of releases having already taken place as agreed before talks started — and the US would release the long-held, Israeli-American spy Jonathan Pollard.
According to the Channel 2 report, Israel said the release of Arab Israelis convicted of terrorist attacks, which the state has been balking at, was linked to the release of Jonathan Pollard from a US jail.
The head of the Arab League also said he was confident that Israel and the Palestinians would resolve the crisis soon and extend peace talks beyond April. Nabil Elaraby told the Associated Press on Thursday that the April 29 deadline would be extended “for months” and rejected the idea that the talks have failed to make progress.
Elaraby did not elaborate, but he did say that he “had contact” with US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is leading the talks.
Other issues on the table — in addition to the prisoners — include construction in the settlements, and whether Israel will demand that the Palestinians merely freeze, or formally retract, applications to join 15 international agencies and treaties. Israel’s demands include Abbas to halt advancement efforts with seven out of the 15 international bodies, Channel 2 said. Of those seven, four are United Nations-affiliated.
Jerusalem had initially requested that the Palestinian Authority retract its application to all 15 international conventions and treaties, arguing that the peace negotiations were established last July under a framework that stipulated both that Israel would free Palestinian prisoners and that the PA would refrain from taking unilateral steps toward statehood at the United Nations.
Officials in Ramallah have said the PA would never withdraw these applications and they have nothing to do with Israel and the peace negotiations. But Israel appears to be insisting that the PA keep its part of the agreement before any further prisoners are freed. “We don’t accept that the Palestinian UN applications are irreversible,” the senior Israeli official said.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas informed the foreign minister representatives of the Arab League Wednesday, in a closed meeting, that the peace talks would be extended beyond the deadline.
In an interview Thursday with the London-based Arabic daily A-Sharq al-Awsat, Abbas said the extension of the talks must be aimed at the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem.
Times of Israel staff, AP, and AFP contributed to this report.