Settlement expansion clouds peace talks, Palestinian prisoners to be freed

JERUSALEM Mon Aug 12, 2013 7:40pm EDT

1 of 3. The mother of Palestinian Salah al-Shaer, who has been held by Israel for 20 years, kisses his picture after hearing news on the expected release of her son in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, August 12, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's announcement of plans to expand Jewish settlements on land Palestinians seek for a state clouded the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks convening in the Middle East this week for the first time in three years.

The talks, which opened in Washington on July 30, were due to resume on Wednesday in Israel, with further talks expected later in the West Bank. Peace talks broke down three years ago in a dispute over settlement building.

Israel on Monday named 26 Palestinians who it will free from jail this week as a goodwill gesture for the peace talks. They were expected to be released back to their homes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip possibly as early as Tuesday evening.

The United States is seeking to broker an agreement on a "two-state solution" in which Israel would exist peacefully alongside a new Palestinian state created in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, lands occupied by the Israelis since a 1967 war.

The United States, European Union and United Nations on Monday condemned Israel's announcement on Sunday of construction plans for about 2,000 new settler homes. Palestinians condemned the settlement plans but have stopped short of threatening to walk out ahead of Wednesday's talks.

During a visit to Colombia, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, whose painstaking shuttle diplomacy got the talks restarted in Washington last month, urged the Palestinians "not to react adversely" to Israel's latest plans.

He said Israel's settlement steps "were to some degree expected" and urged the parties to move ahead with the talks.

"The United States of America views all of the settlements as illegitimate," Kerry said in Bogota.

Similar criticism was voiced by spokesmen for the European Union and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Israel's settlement expansion plans, which officials say is intended for West Bank areas Israel would seek to keep under any peace deal, were an attempt to sweeten with far-right allies of Netanyahu the unpopular plan to free Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis.

Israel approved a list of the first 26 to be freed among a total of 104 it has already agreed to release in four stages. Protests by relatives of Israeli victims of the attacks for which the prisoners were convicted were not expected to keep the inmates from being freed.

LIMITED HAMAS PRAISE

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has vowed to seek freedom for all Palestinian prisoners, gains a boost from the prisoner releases. The subject of prisoners is a highly charged issue in a society where thousands are held in Israeli custody.

Even Abbas's Islamist rival, Hamas, had some limited praise for the prisoners' expected release though also reiterating its objections to negotiating with Israel, a country whose existence Hamas rejects.

"Hamas welcomes the release of any hero prisoner from the jails of the occupation but no prisoner would accept conceding any inch of the land of Palestine as a price for his freedom," senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya said in Gaza on Monday.

Some 500,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem amid 2.5 million Palestinians. Israel withdrew in 2005 from the Gaza Strip, now governed by Hamas Islamists opposed to permanent co-existence with the Jewish state.

Few expect the latest negotiations to resolve issues that have defied solution for decades, such as borders, settlements, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. The United States has said it seeks a peace deal within nine months.

With neighboring Egypt and Syria in upheaval and with Israel facing the threat of a potentially nuclear-armed Iran, Netanyahu decided he could ill afford to alienate the United States, and led his pro-settlement government into the talks.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Warren Strobel in Bogota; Editing by Will Dunham)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (13)
TBellchambers wrote:
It is instructive that these Palestinian political prisoners jailed for attempting to regain stolen lands are termed criminals whilst the Irgun terrorists who massacred the entire Arab village at Deir Yassin are termed freedom fighters as are the terrorists who blew up the King David hotel in Jerusalem killing 91 innocent people.

And of course the IDF soldiers who killed 307 children under the age of sixteen in Gaza in 2008 are heroes.

Aug 12, 2013 2:01am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Jonathan2112 wrote:
@TBellchambers:

Irgun were classified as terrorists, as were the ones who blew up the King David hotel, so I don’t really see the point you’re trying to make.

But that happened decades ago, right after the Arab Revolts where Arabs massacred jewish civilians in the streets, cutting women and children down with axes.

There’s two sides to every story. Just so happens, I don’t really agree with either side. But the Arabs certainly do not have clean hands. How many rockets would you like launched at you? How much “we want you exterminated” would you take? How many bus bombs, cafe bombs would you like in your neighborhood?

The answer isn’t simple. The innocents are caught between two extremes. Two extremes who BOTH are not in the right.

Aug 12, 2013 6:23am EDT  --  Report as abuse
quadibloc wrote:
The United States should have, in this post-9/11 era, let Israel know that it was not expected to release any jailed terrorists who had shed blood, and that not doing so would not be considered by it as a failure on their part.

Aug 12, 2013 6:33am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.