US trying to ‘blackmail’ us over prisoner releases, Abbas adviser says

Yasser Abed Rabbo claims Kerry trying to force Palestinians to accept unsatisfactory framework peace deal

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, second left, flanked by newly released Palestinian security prisoners, greets the crowd in Ramallah, on October 30, 2013 (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, second left, flanked by newly released Palestinian security prisoners, greets the crowd in Ramallah, on October 30, 2013 (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Palestinian officials said Monday that US Secretary of State John Kerry wants to link an upcoming release of Palestinian prisoners by Israel to a framework agreement he hopes to reach in peace talks between the two sides.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, went so far as to allege that the US is using the prisoners to “blackmail” the Palestinians to accept a vague framework deal that fails to meet Palestinian demands.

Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners in four stages during the negotiations, with the final two releases in late December and March. Fifty-four prisoners have already been released.

Two Palestinian officials said Kerry proposed to free all remaining prisoners in late January and link the release to a framework agreement. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

Abed Rabbo, who sits on the PLO’s Executive Committee, also harshly criticized Kerry’s suggestions for security in the Jordan Valley, an area where Israel demands the right to maintain a military presence even after a future peace agreement, the AFP news agency reported.

“These ideas will drive Kerry’s efforts to an impasse and to total failure because he is treating our issues with a high degree of indifference,” he said.

During a visit to the region last week in which he met separately with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry sketched out a US plan for pushing peace talks past an apparent impasse on security issues.

Among its key elements, the US security plan reportedly provides for a series of border crossings along the Jordan Valley border between the West Bank and Jordan which would be jointly controlled by Israel and the PA. The entire border itself, however, would remain under full Israeli control, with the IDF joined only by a symbolic Palestinian security presence. These arrangements would hold for many years, but not necessarily be permanent, Channel 2 reported last week, with the implication being that in a future new era of stability and mutual confidence, Israel might transfer more authority to the Palestinians.

Israeli sources quoted in the report called the security plan “interesting” and “complex” but ultimately “not sufficient.” Nonetheless, they were said to be studying the plan and had not rejected it.

However, top PA officials were quoted Thursday as having rejected the plan. Although it subsequently denied this, the PA is firmly opposed to any ongoing Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley or elsewhere in its intended state.

Jordan has also reportedly indicated to the US that it strongly supports an ongoing Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley, fearing a destabilizing upsurge in terrorism should Israel withdraw its forces, which could have profoundly problematic implications for Jordan.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority restarted peace talks, at Kerry’s behest, in late July. Although meetings have continued regularly out of the eye of the media, recent reports suggested that the talks had ground to a halt over key issues such as security arrangements and the future of some settlements.

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