The Palestinian Authority has agreed to continue talks until April 29, even though Israel has been dragging its feet on releasing 26 Palestinian prisoners, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas said Monday.
Speaking in a television interview with Arabic news outlet Al-Mayadeen, Nabil Abu Rudeineh said that the agreement to free the prisoners was made with US Secretary of State John Kerry and questioned why Israel was not against it nine months ago, when the talks were resumed.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly offered to free 400 prisoners in exchange for an extension beyond the April 29 deadline. Meanwhile, sources say that Abbas has told the US that he would only continue talks if Israel releases another 1,000 prisoners, freezes settlement construction and transfers some Area C regions, currently under Israeli control, to the Palestinian Authority.
Abu Rudeineh’s announcement falls short of hopes for an extension, but seemingly puts to rest the possibility that Palestinians will walk away from talks early after Israel failed to release the veteran Palestinian prisoners, among them 14 Arab Israeli citizens, over the weekend.
Before beginning the current round of negotiations nine months ago, Israel agreed to release in four batches 104 Palestinian prisoners who had been imprisoned before the Oslo peace accords of the mid-1990s. Israel, which had already released 78 of those inmates in three batches — despite grumblings from the right flank of the ruling coalition — informed the Palestinians on Friday that it would not go through with the fourth round unless the Palestinians agreed to extend the talks.
Netanyhau has been under pressure from the right in recent weeks not to release the prisoners and has reportedly told the Americans that his coalition could crumble if he does. Jewish Home MK Orit Strock said Sunday that her party would bolt the coalition in the event that the release went through.
On Saturday, some sources claimed Israel was holding off on freeing the prisoners because of rumors that the PA would back out of peace talks once the fourth group of convicts was released. Israel has also balked at releasing Israeli Arabs.
US officials said Kerry, in Paris Sunday, spoke with Netanyahu.
After those talks, Kerry told reporters in the French capital that it was not yet appropriate for the US to make any public judgement of the situation “at this important moment.”
“It’s really a question between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and what Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared to do,” he added. “We’ll see where we are tomorrow when some judgments have to be made.”