The current impasse in the peace negotiations is not yet over, a senior Israeli official said Thursday evening, dismissing reports of an imminent breakthrough that would include a deal to extend the talks beyond their upcoming deadline. The US-brokered process stalled recently and is currently set to conclude on April 29.
The official was responding to a Channel 2 report based on a source in Washington that said Israel and the Palestinians were close to finalizing a deal that would see peace talks extended by nine months, Channel 2 reported Thursday.
“The reports are unknown to us. As far as we know, we haven’t overcome the crisis,” the official told The Times of Israel. However, talks between Israeli, American and Palestinian officials took place and will continue, the official added.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat was meeting 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 Netanyahu confidant Yitzhak Molcho and Palestinian intelligence chief Majed Farah, a Palestinian source close to the talks told AFP on condition of anonymity.
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 that Abbas 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 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.
Abbas also appeared to attempt to play down the significance of the PA’s application last month to 15 international treaties, saying such applications were a basic right of the Palestinian people and have nothing to do with Israel.
Palestinian leaders have threatened Israel with unilateral action if talks failed to produce results, saying the treaty applications were a first step in attempts to gain recognition of Palestinian statehood outside of bilateral negotiations.
The Palestinian move led Israel on Wednesday to cut most official non-security contacts with the PA and raised calls from right-wing Knesset leaders to formally annex Israel’s West Bank settlements.
Times of Israel staff, AP, and AFP contributed to this report.