Bennett: Fourth Palestinian prisoner release uncertain to happen

Economy minister says Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are at a standstill making questionable the release expected at end of March.

Naftali Bennett 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Naftali Bennett 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said Tuesday that the Israel's fourth and final release of Palestinian prisoners as a gesture for resuming peace talks, was uncertain to take place at the end of March because, according to the minister, peace negotiations are at a standstill.
In an interview with Israel Radio, Bennett slammed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as having acted only in accordance with the policies that the Palestinians have accepted.
Bennett cited Abbas's firm refusal of Israel's demand for a public declaration that Israel is a Jewish state.
"Whoever is unwilling to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people is not a partner in dialogue," he said.
The Bayit Yehudi leader expressed his frustration with what he said was the stagnant progress, calling for the sides to proceed to a "new era - an era of conflict management."
On Monday, Abbas met with US President Barack Obama at the White House and acknowledged that time was running out for peace talks with Israel.
Other Israeli government officials have previously suggested scrapping the release as negotiations flounder with the Palestinians.
Transportation Minister Israel Katz said on Monday he would work to prevent the release of terrorists, especially Fatah politician Marwan Barghouti, who has been convicted in Israel on five counts of murder and sentenced to five life sentences.
“It was a mistake to release the murderers from before the Oslo process in return for starting the talks, and it would be moral bankruptcy to release Barghouti and his friends to continue the talks,” Katz said.
Deputy Education Minister Avraham Wortzman (Bayit Yehudi) called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to hold another cabinet vote on the release before March 28.
“Such gestures did not lead to any progress with the Palestinians until now, but did increase acts of terror,” he said.
Michael Wilner contributed to this report.