Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz said Wednesday that significant progress was made in a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on Tuesday evening.
Peretz, a member of top Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party, told Israel Radio that “the talks were a lot better” than previous sessions, and that, contrary to charges by members of right wing parties in the government, “the talks continue to exist.”
According to Peretz, there was still a “very serious effort” by Livni to reach an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians to extend peace talks beyond their April 29 deadline.
“There really is progress” on a number of issues raised by the Palestinians as part of their demands for the extension of negotiations, he said.
Over the weekend the Palestinians issued a series of demands that they said Israel must meet if American-mediated talks are to be extended.
On Tuesday,Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Israeli reporters that his administration would agree to extend negotiations with Israel by nine months on the condition that Jerusalem agreed to immediately commence discussing the borders of the future Palestinian state, and imposed a full settlement construction freeze.
But Israeli officials said Abbas was laying down unacceptable terms with the intention of allowing talks to fail while avoiding the blame for their failure.
The two sides reached an impasse last month over Israel’s refusal to release a fourth, final batch of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. The Israeli government has refused to set the final wave of 26 convicts free because of the Palestinian demand that 14 Israeli Arab prisoners be included in the group.