Erekat, Livni: Israel to release first of Palestinian prisoners by mid-August

Head PLO negotiator says 26 prisoners to be released August 13.

Livni and Erekat 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
Livni and Erekat 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
Israel was expected to release 26 Palestinian prisoners on August 13 to constitute the first of four stages of prisoner releases as a gesture for resuming direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said Saturday.
Erekat's statement to Palestinian news agency Ma'an mirrored that of Israel's chief negotiator Tzipi Livini on Friday concerning expected peace talk proceedings within the next two weeks.
Livni on Friday said the next session of peace talks was set to be held in Israel in the second week of August, by which time the first group of Palestinian prisoners will be freed.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told Israel's Channel 10 television that the parties had agreed on alternating venues for talks in initial meetings with the first to be held in Israel.
"We and the Palestinians both determined that the first meetings would be held once in Israel and once in the Palestinian Authority ... we want to do it directly (and close to home). The next meeting will be in the second week of August in Israel," she said in a broadcast interview.
Livni added that the prisoners would be freed "by that time" but did not give a more specific timetable, saying that the case of each inmate slated for release still had to be scrutinized before final approval.
Last week, the Israeli Cabinet approved the release of 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners in stages according to progress in the talks. Thousands more remain in Israeli jails.
Livni expressed her belief that Israel and the Palestinian Authority are on the path toward serious talks with real hopes for success.
"We wouldn't take part in the talks if it wasn't obvious to me, to you and to everyone that these need to be serious talks," Livni said.
Discussing her recent meetings in Washington with Palestinian representatives, Livni said the discussions convinced her that there is a chance for success.
"We went into a room, after a long time when we haven't met to discuss these types of subjects, and I feel that not just us, but the Palestinians as well, want to talk seriously and not just blame Israel," Livni confided.
On both sides, the renewed peace negotiations have been met with skepticism and at times even anger, particularly regarding Israel's decision to release the Palestinian prisoners as a prelude to the talks.
However Netanyahu has defended the decision recently saying "this moment is not easy for me...but there are times when difficult decisions must be made for the good of the state, and this is one of those times."
Livni supported the decision during her interview, citing a better, more peaceful future as a worthy cause for the release, though she confessed that it was still a hard decision to make.
The Hatnua leader also expressed her belief that most of the Israeli population supports the renewed peace talks and promised to work her hardest to make certain they were successful.
"I know what my job is, I know what my mission is and I am working with the prime minister to make sure that we succeed."