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Photo by: REUTERS/Ammar Awad
Despite spike in terror, Israel expected to release 26 convicted terrorists next week
By HERB KEINON
24/12/2013
Release part of agreement that led to restart of talks with Palestinians in July; expectation is that Kerry will present framework accord soon.
 
Israel is expected to go ahead and release a third group of convicted Palestinian terrorists early next week as part of the deal that led to a resumption of Israel-Palestinian talks, despite the recent uptick in terrorist attacks.

Government officials said that there has been no change in the plans and even Tourism Minister Uzi Landau, from the right flank of Likud Beytenu, said that commitments entered into needed to be fulfilled.

The group of ministers mandated with drawing up the names of the additional 26 prisoners to be released is expected to meet by the end of the week.

Their decision does not have to go back to the cabinet for approval.

Although Landau said that Israel should perhaps consider delaying the expected release of another group of Palestinian prisoners, he said that Jerusalem should not cancel it.

“In principle if we already made the basic mistake of freeing terrorists, I do not suggest that we get into the area of not abiding by agreements we took upon ourselves,” Landau said.

“If you take upon yourself to implement something,” he continued, “implement it. Agreements have to be implemented.”

Landau said that was especially true since “the Palestinians are not upholding their part, nor fulfilling their obligations, and this is true of every round of negotiations over the last 20 years.”

The sense in Jerusalem is that since the agreement leading to the talks – including the prisoner releases – were brokered by the Americans, not abiding by it would cause Israel considerable negative diplomatic fallout.

The upcoming prisoner release, like the two previous ones, is expected to be accompanied by sharp public criticism.

Under the terms of the framework, Israel was to release in four batches over a period of nine months 104 terrorists convicted of crimes carried out before the 1993 Oslo Accords.

It has already released 52 prisoners in two previous groups.

Officials deny that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has made commitments not to announce housing tenders beyond the Green Line as was done the last time the prisoners were released, a move widely interpreted as an attempt by Netanyahu to reduce criticism from his political Right.

That move was roundly condemned by the EU and the US, though it was not a violation of the agreement that led to the reestablishment of talks.

Meanwhile, over the last few days there has been a wave of reports regarding the status of the negotiations, some of them completely contradictory.

Army Radio reported that US Secretary of State John Kerry’s security proposals presented to Israel and the Palestinians as part of ongoing peace talks accept most of Israel’s positions, including Israeli control of the future Palestinian state’s border with Jordan.

On two visits earlier this month Kerry presented to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu security “ideas” based on the work that a team of some 160 US officials, headed by retired US Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, drew up, defining what it thought would be necessary for Israel’s security if a Palestinian state were created.

According to the report, the US is prepared to give Israel full control of the Jordan border, as well as the ability to spy and collect intelligence in the West Bank.

Kerry proposed that a massive fence be built along the length of the Jordan Valley, similar to the West Bank separation barrier, placing the proposed Palestinian state between the two fences, Army Radio reported.

According to the report, the US security proposal allows for Israeli drones to fly over the West Bank, collecting intelligence and spying on terrorist activities.

Jordan border patrols will initially be carried out by IDF soldiers only, for the first few years, and will eventually be done in cooperation with Palestinian and Jordanian forces.

While Army Radio reported that Israel sees the proposals as a basis for negotiations – even though it calls for the dismantling of the civilian settlements in the Jordan Valley – both Abbas and the Arab League have effectively rejected the US plan, stating that there could be not one Israeli soldier in the territory of a future Palestinian state.

Netanyahu has for years been adamant in demanding an Israeli security presence – and not any kind of international force – along the Jordan River following a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Other accounts, however, indicate that the Americans rejected some of Israel’s main demands: such as the right of hot pursuit after terrorists inside a future Palestinian state, as well as taking military action if it has information about a “ticking bomb.”

While there are widespread reports in the Israeli media that Kerry will present the sides with a framework agreement next month, the Palestinian news service Ma’an reported earlier this week that this could come as soon as the end of this year.

According to this report, Abbas, at an emergency meeting of the Arab League on Saturday in Cairo, said the framework accords would contain US suggestions for future borders of a Palestinian state.

The report quoted Muhammad Sbeih, the secretary- general of Palestinians Affairs for the Arab League, as saying that Abbas made clear at the meeting that he would bring the proposal to the league, for it to make a joint decision.

Abbas, according to the report, said he would only accept a proposal that included east Jerusalem “in its entirety” as the capital of a Palestinian state.

He will reject the idea of any permanent Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, but would accept international peacekeepers.

He will also refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and will reject the notion that the new Palestinian state be demilitarized, the report said.
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