Israel to free Palestinian prisoners for peace talks: minister

JERUSALEM Sat Jul 20, 2013 8:04am EDT

Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz listens to a question during an interview in New York January 28, 2013. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz listens to a question during an interview in New York January 28, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel has agreed to release Palestinian prisoners in order to resume peace talks, but will not yield to other demands the Palestinians say must be met before they return to the negotiating table.

Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Saturday that Israel was prepared to release some "heavyweight" prisoners but could not accept Palestinian demands over the borders of their future state before talks begin.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that Israel and the Palestinians had laid the groundwork to resume talks after an almost three-year stalemate, but that the deal was not final and required more diplomacy.

"There will be some release of prisoners," Steinitz told Israel Radio. "I don't want to give numbers but there will be heavyweight prisoners who have been in jail for tens of years." The release would be carried out in phases, he added.

Palestinians have long demanded that Israel free prisoners held since before 1993, when the two sides signed the Oslo Accords - a interim deal intended to lead to an independent state the Palestinians seek in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

"In all meetings held by President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) with minister Kerry and others, the Palestinian demand to release the prisoners topped the agenda," said Abbas's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdaineh. "Freeing prisoners is a Palestinian priority that should precede any agreement.

There are about 100 pre-Oslo prisoners in Israeli jails, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club, a Palestinian body that looks after the interests of inmates and their families.

Steinitz indicated that some of those who would be released had been convicted of violent crimes against Israelis.

"It will not be simple, but we will make that gesture," he said.

WASHINGTON

The Palestinians say the talks must be about establishing a future state with borders approximating the boundaries that existed before Israel captured territories in a 1967 war.

Steinitz said there had been no Israeli concession on that point nor on the Palestinian demand that Israel halt all construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

"There is no chance that we will agree to enter any negotiations that begin with defining territorial borders or concessions by Israel, nor a construction freeze," he said.

A senior Palestinian official with knowledge of the talks told Reuters: "Our position remains clear: resumption of negotiations should be based on the two-state solution and on the 1967 borders."

Kerry said on Friday that the deal between Israel and the Palestinians to resume negotiations was still being "formalized" but that negotiators for both sides could begin talks in Washington "within the next week or so".

Israeli and Palestinian officials told Reuters on Friday the talks would take months to unfold. Steinitz said the Palestinians had agreed to enter talks that would take between nine months to a year.

He said this would stop the Palestinians from taking unilateral steps at the United Nations General Assembly in September, when they had planned to seek recognition for their statehood in the absence of direct talks with Israel.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy told a news conference on Saturday: "We support serious talks to take place with a set and precise time frame."

Kerry's drive to relaunch the peace talks was endorsed this week by the Arab League, which potentially holds out the prospect of a broader regional peace with Israel upon the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The Arab League's own peace proposals, launched over a decade ago, foundered on the issue of a return to 1967 borders, but it confirmed on Wednesday it had shifted its position to countenance "limited exchange of territory of the same value and size."

Such a formula could allow Israel to keep large settlement blocs it has said should remain in Israeli hands in any future peace deal.

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Yasmine Saleh in Cairo; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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Comments (2)
Reuters1945 wrote:
“The Palestinians…said their future state must have borders approximating the boundaries of those territories before Israel captured them in a 1967 Middle East War.”

Note the use of the word “must” as if the Arabs are holding all the Aces and a Straight Flush.

If five Arab nations had not attempted to annihilate the comparatively tiny State of Israel in 1967, then the Arabs would still be in full control of the territories they lost as a result of the 1967 war.

Imagine if a bank robber who was apprehended by the police said to the presiding Judge: “But your Honor I did not succeed in the attempted bank heist and thus you should drop all the charges against me as if nothing ever happened”.

That is how preposterous the demands of the PLO sound to any rational human being.

Every time the Arab nations have attacked Israel they have lost something. But they never learn from their mistakes apparently.

Actions have consequences. Especially if annihilating a people’s right to exist is a component of those actions.

The United Nations voted in 1947, before the birth of Israel, to give the Arabs permanent control of fully 50 % of British Mandate Palestine.

But it was not enough for the Arabs. They wanted 100 % and attempted to drive the Jews of Palestine into the sea in 1947-1948.

They rolled the dice then and they rolled the dice over and over again in war after war since then. And always with the same result. They always lost something.

When you repeat the same action over and over, but always get the same result, some people would say that attitude reflects some form of insanity.

If Middle East history is any guide, the Arabs will continue to make the same types of decisions and absurd demands regarding the State of Israel which they have made for half a century.

One day they might even look back and realize they should have accepted the 1947 offer of the United Nations to control fully half of what is now present day Israel.

Just imagine. The Palestinians could have already had their own Palestinian State for the past 65 years which the UN offered to them in 1947, on a Silver Platter and which was fully agreeable to the Jews at the time.

But it is doubtful the average Palestinian is even allowed to know about that 1947 UN Resolution to create a Palestinian State existing along side a Jewish State.

While the PLO struts and rants about what it will demand in any Washington meetings, the Leaders of Hamas in Gaza continue to rant about how they will never recognize Israel’s “Right to exist” and are Sworn to Israel’s ultimate destruction.

The clock is ticking away on any chances the PLO might have to salvage something, anything- from all their past mistakes. But they are deaf and perhaps even a little dumb.

You cannot help people who are their own worst enemy.

Jul 20, 2013 9:47am EDT  --  Report as abuse
hi53241 wrote:
No more prisoner releases.

Israel makes a PR blunder as well as a security blunder playing this game. It makes it sound as if Israel is holding Palestinians in jail without cause.

To the contrary, they are there for a reason – and remember, the talk now again is about releasing “heavy weight prisoners”

What is a heavy weight prisoner?

“The military Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari was quoted in the Saudi Arabian newspaper Al-Hayat as confirming that the prisoners released as part of the deal (to free Shalit) were collectively responsible for 569 deaths of Israeli civilians.[“

Jul 20, 2013 9:22pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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