Palestinian officials on Friday threatened to suspend negotiations with Israel after Jerusalem declined to release 26 Palestinian prisoners in the coming days. The scenario, which would also see Palestinian officials resume waging diplomatic warfare against Israel in international forums, would risk permanently derailing a U.S.-backed peace initiative. The Friday statements were followed by a weekend of anonymous leaks discussing the possibility of mass prisoner releases and public denials of those leaks.
The Palestinians insist that the releases are a past concession that Israel is obligated to fulfill. The interpretation – under which Israeli negotiators would have committed to formal and functionally irreversible concessions in exchange for the Palestinians simply talking – came as a surprise to among others Israeli negotiators:
The Prime Minister’s Office remained silent about whether Netanyahu intended to go ahead with the release. One official cited Justice Minister Tzipi Livni’s comment last week that there was never an “automatic commitment to release prisoners unrelated to making progress in negotiations,” and said that comment remained relevant. “Things are fluid,” one official said, adding that this fluidity stemmed from Israel’s waiting to see if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – who met with US Secretary of State John Kerry for four hours in Jordan Wednesday night – would agree to continue the negotiations.
Livni had run in the last election on a peace platform and has continued to prominently press for Israel to make concessions.
Progress in negotiations had been uneven for months. Ramallah has U.S. bridging proposals calling for mutual recognition of Jewish and Palestinian states, requiring a definitive stance ending refugee claims against Israel, and establishing a medium-term Israeli security presence along the border with Jordan. Former Israeli national security advisor Yaakov Amidror on Thursday gave a grim assessment of Palestinian willingness to soften their demands:
The Palestinians “have not moved one inch” in their negotiating positions since 1994, while the Netanyahu government has made dramatic concessions unacknowledged by world opinion, Israel’s former national security adviser said on Thursday… Amidror compared Israel’s current offers to the Palestinians to those presented by former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to the Knesset on October 1995, a month before his assassination. “Israel made huge steps towards the Palestinians, while the Palestinians — at the very least — did not budge an inch. In certain areas, they even moved backward,” Amidror said.
Recent days had in fact seen the Palestinians move away from even hinting at the possibility of concessions. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas told the Arab League on Tuesday that he now rejects “even holding a discussion” over Israel’s long-standing and U.S.-backed requirement that any comprehensive peace deal include a formal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
The Israelis had already conducted three previous rounds of releases as good-will gestures in the context of on-going peace talks. Top PA figures, up to and Abbas, had for their part had ostentatiously celebrated the freed terrorists and murderers as heroes, badly undermining Israeli politicians who sought to push through a fourth round of releases.
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