Israeli-Palestinian talks are scheduled to resume Thursday, following a one-day postponement.
Israeli officials would neither confirm nor deny reports that the delay was because of the funeral of murdered police officer Baruch Mizrahi.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, said the postponement was due to an American request in order to allow the participation of US envoy Martin Indyk.
Indyk, who has been in the US since Friday, is expected back in Israel with his staff in time for Thursday’s meeting, expected to be between Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho, representing Israel, and PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.
The talks are aimed at coming up with a formula that would enable a continuation of the talks past their April 29 deadline. The two sides met in a rare, three-hour meeting Sunday night without American mediators.
In a sign that some progress is being made to keep the talks alive, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaineh, said during a press conference in Ramallah that there was already an agreement to continue the talks past their deadline.
This was the first time a Palestinian spokesman has openly mentioned extending the talks, with Palestinian officials having said up until now that they would not go one day past the deadline.
“The Palestinian commitment is clear to the Israelis and the Americans, and this commitment is that the talks will continue until April 29, and that Israel should release the fourth group of prisoners,” he said. “This is the basic Palestinian demand. This is not a Palestinian condition, but it is a Palestinian demand, which was agreed upon with the US secretary of state [John Kerry] according to which 104 pre-Oslo prisoners would be released, and in return we would not go to the United Nations organizations for nine months.”
Abu Rudaineh said that the talks were now focused on the “foundations that would pave the way for an extension” of the talks.
He added that “no one is talking about an explosion or a breakdown in the talks.”
“President Abbas has affirmed this to the Israelis and always repeats it to the Americans,” he said. “The Israelis and the Americans know very well that the release of the pre-Oslo prisoners was in return for us not going to the UN for nine months, and Israel did not meet its commitments, and therefore the Palestinian leadership took a decision to go to the UN. Now the talks with the Israelis and the Americans are continuing to the end of this month to discuss the basis that could lead to an extension of the negotiations.”
Meanwhile, Channel 2 reported that Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yoram Cohen is recommending that 10 of the 26 Palestinian terrorists Israel is slated to release in the fourth and final group be deported – either to Gaza or abroad.
This is an idea that will certainly face strong resistance from the Palestinians.
Israel refused to go through with the release of these prisoners last month when the Palestinians refused to give a commitment that they would agree to an extension of the talks.
Another idea that has been floated in recent days to ensure that a prisoner release does not lead to Bayit Yehudi bolting the government is that if the release includes 14 Israeli Arabs, as the Palestinians are demanding, their Israeli citizenship should be revoked, and they should be banished from the country. This idea, too, will face stiff resistance from the Palestinians.
Meanwhile, Israeli officials continued Wednesday to hold the Palestinian Authority “directly responsible” for the incitement that created the “fertile soil” for the type of violence that resulted in Mizrahi’s murder.
“The PA has nurtured an environment of hatred and glorification of terrorism, so the PA is directly responsible in creating a situation where these sorts of things can happen,” one official said.