The Obama administration is very concerned that the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks could collapse soon, and is working to find a solution that would allow the talks to continue beyond the April deadline which marks the end of the agreed-upon nine month negotiating period, according to a Sunday report.
The US, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, is trying to come up with a means of ensuring that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will agree to continue the talks and move forward with the upcoming release of the fourth batch of long-serving Palestinian and Israeli-Arab prisoners held in Israeli jails, according to Western sources cited in a Sunday Israel Radio report.
Israel has threatened to halt the release of the prisoners, which includes Israeli citizens serving time on terror charges, unless Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas agrees to an extension of the talks. Abbas in turn has demanded that the prisoner release go through without any commitment on his part, and threatened last week to end the negotiations.
The negotiations are in “real danger” over the prisoner release issue and the entire process could fail, according to Israeli officials who spoke to Israel Radio.
The US has been attempting to get the two sides to agree to a “framework” document, a non-binding text outlining in broad strokes a final status agreement, but to no avail. According to Israel Radio, recent rumors of a proposal put forward by the Prime Minister’s Office to have the US free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for Israel’s signing on to the framework agreement were not denied by US officials, who would not say whether or not Obama agreed with the idea.
Last week Abbas rejected the framework document for continued peace talks with Israel, and issued “three no’s” on core issues, leaving the negotiations heading for an explosive collapse, an Israeli TV report said Friday.
Specifically, the report said, Abbas rejected Netanyahu’s demand that he recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He also refused to abandon the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” for millions of Palestinians and their descendants — a demand that, if implemented, would drastically alter Israel’s demographic balance and which no conceivable Israeli government would accept. And finally, he refused to commit to an “end of conflict,” under which a peace deal would represent the termination of any further Palestinian demands of Israel.
Israel has indicated that it may not release the fourth and final group of Palestinian prisoners at the end of this month, as agreed to when the current talks began last July, if Abbas does not first agree to extend the talks beyond their scheduled cessation next month, the TV report added. Since Abbas rejected the Kerry framework for extending the talks, the report said, the negotiations were now heading for an “explosion.”
Abbas returned on Thursday from the US, having held talks with Obama on Monday, and was met at his Ramallah compound by hundreds of cheering supporters.
On Thursday, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry notified Abbas that it is prepared to apply for full membership in international institutions if Israel fails to complete the final release of prisoners, scheduled for March 29.
Israel agreed to release 104 such prisoners in four stages over the nine-month negotiating period, in return for a Palestinian commitment not to apply for membership in international bodies.
A number of Israeli cabinet members, including Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, have publicly opposed the final release, which the Palestinians want to include 14 Israeli citizens, something Israel has rejected.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.