(photo credit: AP [file])
Cabinet ministers are expected on Sunday to discuss the release of 100 Palestinian prisoners before Ramadan as a good-will gesture, government officials said Saturday night.
If the release is approved, it would likely be discussed and possibly announced at a planned meeting Monday in Jerusalem between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
The release has been discussed in recent days by an interministerial committee, made up of representatives from the Prime Minister's Office, Justice Ministry, Defense Ministry and security establishment, that deals with prisoner releases.
This release would follow by about two months a previous release of some 250 Palestinian prisoners, and the criteria would be similar: only Fatah prisoners who have served significant sentences and still have more than a year left to serve.
In addition to the prisoner release, Abbas and Olmert will continue discussing a document that they are trying to formulate prior to the US-sponsored meeting later in the year that will serve as the framework for further negotiations.
While the Prime Minister's Office has given almost no information about what is being discussed, beyond saying that the two men in their ongoing meetings are discussing "fundamental principles," Yediot Ahronot published the outlines of a diplomatic plan being promoted by Vice Premier Haim Ramon.
This plan calls for basing the West Bank border on the security fence and annexing 3-8 percent of the West Bank, but giving up large settlements like Karnei Shomron, Beit El and Ofra.
According to the plan, the Palestinians would be given a land bridge from Hebron to Gaza to compensate them for the West Bank settlement blocs remaining in Israeli hands.
The plan would also roughly follow former US President Bill Clinton's parameters regarding Jerusalem, meaning that what is populated by Jews would remain part of Israel, and the Arab-populated sections of the city would be part of a Palestinian state. Regarding the so-called "Holy basin," the old city and its environs, each religion would have authority over its holy places, and no national flags would fly there.
Under the plan, Palestinian refugees would have the right of return to the Palestinian state, and Israel would not allow in any refugees except for a token amount for "humanitarian reasons." The Prime Minister's Office had no response to the plan, other than to say that it was Ramon's ideas, not Olmert's. Ramon, nevertheless, is considered one of the minister's closest to the prime minister.
Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, however, criticized the diplomatic plan in a speech at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center's 7th annual international anti-terrorism conference on Saturday night.
"This is not the day to talk about a permanent agreement with the Palestinians," Dichter said. "To talk about a safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank now is like talking about how to handle an oil pipeline between an oil well and fresh water. Discussions on a permanent agreement will have to wait for better days."
Observers at the conference interpreted Dichter's remarks as criticism of Olmert's talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. But Dichter's associates said he was not referring to Olmert, because the prime minister has not said that he was working on a permanent agreement.
The Ramon plan, as well as the situation in Lebanon and the tension with Syria, are expected to feature prominently in meetings this week with Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amada, who arrives Sunday, and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who will arrive Monday. Portugal currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.
Kouchner's visit is viewed as especially significant because it will be his first visit here as foreign minister and the first high level visit since Nicolas Sarkozy was elected France's president earlier in the summer.