Israel will not release the fourth batch of 26 terrorists it was to have freed last Saturday night, because of the Palestinian decision to apply for admission to 15 international treaties and conventions, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Livni’s comments came during a marathon, seven- hour meeting with Erekat held in Jerusalem overnight Wednesday in a frenetic US effort to save the faltering diplomatic process.
According to Israeli officials, Livni – who met alongside Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho with Erekat and the head of Palestinian Intelligence Majid Faraj – said the Palestinians’ unilateral application to UN conventions and treaties came at a time when they knew full well that Israel was working in a coordinated and genuine fashion to reach an agreement that would have led to the release of the Palestinian prisoners.
Since the agreement to release them was dependent on the Palestinians upholding their commitment not to turn to international organizations, “under these conditions Israel cannot release the fourth batch of prisoners,” Livni said. Both sides, she said, now have to consider how to move forward in the negotiations.
The US was promoting a “grand deal” on Tuesday that would have had Washington free Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, Israel release the final batch of 26 Palestinians convicted of terrorist acts before the 1993 Oslo Accords, plus another 400 Palestinian prisoners “without blood on their hands,” in exchange for a continuation of talks for another nine months and a Palestinian commitment not to apply to international organizations.
Under the deal, Israel would curb Jewish construction beyond the Green Line.
But hours before US Secretary of State John Kerry was to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah about the deal, the latter demonstratively signed documents applying for admission into 15 treaties and conventions. Kerry canceled his trip, and the process went into a downward spin.
Livni told Erekat in the meeting, which the Palestinian news agency Ma’an described as a “fierce political battle,” that no unilateral action will move the negotiations forward.
She called on the Palestinians to retract their move and return to negotiations.
Ma’an quoted Palestinian sources as describing the meeting as “long and heated,” and saying it “ended without any signs of bringing both sides back to the negotiating table.” US Middle East envoy Martin Indyk, who arranged the meeting, struggled “to control heated exchanges between both sides,” according to the report.
Erekat said they were negotiating on behalf of the UN-recognized state of “Palestine,” not in the name of the Palestine Authority whose “inputs and outputs are controlled by Israel.” The Israeli team then reportedly responded by threatening “endless” sanctions on the Palestinians, to which Erekat responded that the PLO would go after Israeli officials as “war criminals” in international institutions.
According to another Ma’an report, Erekat briefed Fatah members on Thursday on the conditions that the Palestinians have put down for continuing the talks beyond their April 29 deadline:
• A letter from Netanyahu recognizing that the June 4, 1967, lines be the borders of the Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital;
• Israel releasing 1,200 prisoners, including Fatah-Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Sa’adat, secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine;
• Israel lifting the blockade on the Gaza Strip;
• Israel ending Jewish construction in east Jerusalem, and reopening the Palestinian institutions there, such as Orient House;
• An end to IDF incursions into the Palestinian-controlled Area A of the West Bank to carry out arrests; and
• Providing Israeli citizenship to 15,000 Palestinians within the framework of family reunification.
The Prime Minister’s Office would not comment on the demands.
Meanwhile, Kerry, on a visit to Algeria, said the US remains committed to the process, but cannot force through an agreement.
“The parties met even last night and they are continuing to have their discussions. We will continue, no matter what, to try to facilitate the capacity of people to be able to make peace,” he said.
“But in the end, you can push, you can nudge, but the parties themselves have to make fundamental decisions and compromises. The leaders have to lead, and they have to be able to see a moment when it’s there. There is an old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Now’s the time to drink, and the leaders need to know that,” Kerry said.