John Kerry’s efforts to bridge the gap between Israel and the Palestinians and resume long-stagnant peace talks have yet to bear fruit, but the US secretary of state reportedly managed to wring concessions out of both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during meetings over the weekend.
Netanyahu, Maariv reported Monday, was willing to implement a construction freeze on parts of the West Bank and release some 60 Palestinian prisoners ahead of peace talks, about half of the 123 prisoners demanded by Abbas, who would not budge from that number.
The prisoners in question, all of whom have been in Israeli jails since before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, would be released in three groups.
In theory, the first group was to be set free after a summit with Abbas and Kerry this week in Amman, the report said, citing Israeli officials. However, that summit didn’t come to pass.
In addition to releasing prisoners, Netanyahu reportedly also agreed to a full construction freeze outside the settlement blocs in the West Bank and a slowdown to construction in other settlements and in the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.
Abbas also showed some flexibility, agreeing to relinquish his long-held demand for a full building freeze.
According to a report in Haaretz, based on an unnamed senior Israel official, Kerry brought Netanyahu’s concessions — agreed to during a marathon meeting late Saturday and early Sunday — to Abbas in Ramallah during a meeting on Sunday.
Ramallah has yet to offer an answer, but a number of senior American officials are staying in Israel without Kerry with the hopes of parlaying the new terms into renewed peace talks, which have been largely on hold since 2008.
On Sunday, Kerry told reporters he had “considerably” narrowed the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians and that the start of final-status negotiations could be “within reach.”
Netanyahu is reportedly unwilling to free all 123 pre-Oslo prisoners before peace talks are resumed because he fears that Abbas, having garnered a perceived victory over Netanyahu, will set impossible further demands, stymieing talks and paving the way for the resumption of a unilateral statehood campaign in the UN and other international bodies, Israeli officials told Maariv.
Another condition that Netanyahu is reportedly unwilling to accede to is Abbas’s demand that Israel declare that negotiations will be based on the 1967 lines. The report cited sources close to Netanyahu as saying that such a demand was ridiculous because borders were a final-status issue that couldn’t be decided before talks were even resumed.
The prime minister, the sources said, would only be willing to cite the 1967 contours before talks were resumed if Abbas accepted some of Netanyahu’s long-held views on a final-status agreement: that the Palestinian state must be demilitarized, that its western border must run along Israel’s West Bank security fence, and that Israel must maintain military control of the Jordan Valley.
The Palestinians have long demanded a settlement building freeze and the recognition of the pre-1967 lines as preconditions for talks, while Israel insists on coming to the table with no preconditions.