Israel is set to release a second batch of Palestinian prisoners next week, and
officials clarified that it would also announce more building projects soon in
West Bank settlement blocs and in east Jerusalem.
The Prime Minister’s
Office has yet to confirm the release, but right-wing officials – including
members of the coalition – have already mounted a campaign against
The Bayit Yehudi Party plans to attempt to pass a bill on Sunday at
the Ministerial Committee for Legislation that would block future prisoner
releases, according to the office of its party leader, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett.
building and prisoner releases were apparently among the issues that Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu discussed with US Secretary of State John Kerry when
the two met for seven hours in Rome on Wednesday
Yuval Steinitz also discussed the negotiations with US Vice President Joseph
Biden when the two men met in Washington on Thursday.
Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) has continued negotiations with the Palestinians this week,
as part of a ninemonth process which began in July to come to a final-status
agreement by the end of March.
It is expected that in advance of the
prisoner release, a meeting of Quartet envoys will be held in Jerusalem on
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has held meetings
with European leaders
this week to urge them to act against continued Jewish
building over the pre-1967 lines, which he has told them threatens the peace
But Israeli officials clarified that it was clear to the United
States and the Palestinians that Israel would continue to announce new building
in the settlement blocs and Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem during the
nine-month negotiating period.
Israel has also recently provided the
United States with examples of Palestinian incitement, including a youth
magazine published under the auspices of the PA that praised Adolf Hitler, as
well as a teacher who spoke of Palestine as spanning from the sea to the Jordan
Senior members of the Bayit Yehudi Party said it was cynical and
immoral for Netanyahu to link the release of Palestinian prisoners involved in
terror attacks against Israelis with settlement building. They added that under
these circumstances it would be better to refrain from building.
the cabinet approved the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners
in Israeli jails
in four stages. Israel released 26 of those prisoners in August. Next week’s
release is seen as the second stage of that deal.
Israel’s agreement to
release the prisoners was a key factor in the PA’s decision to begin direct
negotiations with Israel.
Prior to July, it had refused to hold direct
talks with Israel until it halted West Bank settlement activity and Jewish
building in east Jerusalem.
On Thursday, Livni said that solving the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict would make it easier for Israel to form an alliance
with moderate Arab countries against Iran.
Steinitz raised Israeli
concerns on Iran with Biden, particularly its fear that the United States would
ease financial pressure on Iran before it dismantled its nuclear weapons
A senior Iranian parliamentarian was quoted as saying on
Thursday that Iran has halted its most sensitive uranium enrichment work
, a move
that would meet a main demand of world powers.
Any such development would
be a big surprise, however, as Western experts believe Iran would want to use
its higher-grade enrichment as a bargaining chip to win relief from stringent
sanctions which have mangled the Iranian economy.
Iran’s enrichment of
uranium to levels of 20 percent is sensitive as it is a relatively short
technical step to increase that to the 90 percent needed for making a nuclear
Israel, however, believes that such a move is more cosmetic than
substantive because it still enables Iran to build nuclear
Steinitz was in Washington to participate on Wednesday in a new
round of “Strategic Dialogue” talks with the US. He was also briefed by the US
team that is negotiating with Iran.
The US characterizes the strategic
dialogue as “the highest level regularly-scheduled diplomatic meeting between
the two countries.” The last round of talks were held in July 2012.
peace process was a major topic of discussion, as was Iran,” State Department
deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said of the meeting on Thursday.
sides reiterated their determination to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear
weapon,” the State Department said in a prepared statement.
delegations reviewed developments in Syria, including efforts to eliminate
Syria’s chemical weapon program, as well as threats to regional stability from
terrorist groups such as Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas.”
reporters on Wednesday that the two sides engage in near-daily exchanges on the
twin issues – the peace process with the Palestinians and the Iranian nuclear
program – and expected no great news developments to arise from this round of
Strategic Dialogue talks to emerge.
“We have conversations at all levels
regularly,” Harf said.
“These are topics we discuss all the
time.”Reuters contributed to this report.