Israel will free Palestinian prisoners in a bid to resume peace talks, said Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz. In spite of the concession, Israel remains firmly against a settlements freeze, the issue that stalled peace talks 3 years ago.
“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.”
He stressed, however, that it was not yet a done deal and more diplomacy is needed for an agreement to be struck. Furthermore, he noted that Israel was not prepared to compromise on other core issues.
Israel and the Palestinian government have been locked in diplomatic stagnation since 2010 when Israel announced plans to expand its settlements.
“There is no chance that we will agree to enter any negotiations that begins with defining territorial borders or concessions by Israel, nor a construction freeze,” he said on Israel Radio.
In view of their ambitions for statehood, one of the Palestinian demands in their negotiations with Israel is the establishment of borders and a halt to Israeli settlement building. Israel’s expansion past the so-called ‘Green Line’ which marks the boundaries set after the war in 1967 has been branded as illegal by the international community.
US Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Friday that the groundwork had been laid for Israel and Palestine to restart peace talks. He met with representatives from both parties in Jordan for negotiations.
Kerry praised the new accord as significant headway and a “welcome step forward,” but noted the agreement was yet to be formalized.
“If everything goes as expected, Saeb Erekat [member of the Palestinian parliament] and Tzipi Livni [Israeli Justice Minister] and Yitzhak Molcho [Chief Israeli negotiator with Palestine] will be joining me in Washington to begin initial talks within the next week or so and a further announcement will be made by all of us at that time,” Kerry concluded.
Palestinian officials also said the details of the agreement have yet to be finalized, but Hamas has refused negotiations outright.
“Hamas rejects Kerry’s announcement of a return to talks and considers the Palestinian Authority’s return to negotiations with the occupation to be at odds with the national consensus,” a senior spokesman for the Palestinian political party Hamas told foreign media on Friday.