Israel Agrees Palestinian Prisoner Release to Restart Peace Talks
Israel has agreed to release a group of Palestinian prisoners as part of a deal brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry to restart peace talks.
“There will be some release of prisoners,” he said ”I don’t want to give numbers but there will be heavyweight prisoners who have been in jail for tens of years.”
The release of prisoners who have been incarcerated in Israel since before the two sides signed the Oslo accords in 1993 has been a long held and oft repeated demand from Palestinian authorities. Israel has refused to give way to other demands, however. Both Palestinian authorities and some international observers have insisted that any negotiations for a future state of Palestine should assume that the country will have borders broadly in line with those prior to the 1967 war when Israel began their occupation of areas such as the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Another central demand was that Israel halt settlement building, which is viewed as a way to use demographics to make future Palestinian control of key territories unviable.
Two days ago Israeli authorities were forced to deny that rumours that they had agreed to the 1967 borders requirement (see video below) in order to restart peace talks. It is easy to speculate, based on the theory of ‘no smoke without fire’, that Israel may have offered assurances that they expect negotiations to agree something similar to the 1967 borders, but that they cannot commit to this in advance. That, however, is pure speculation on my part.
“There is no chance that we will agree to enter any negotiations that begins with defining territorial borders or concessions by Israel, nor a construction freeze,” Steinitz told Israel Radio.
Wasel Abu Youssef, a senior member of the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) responded by telling Reuters that “efforts will continue to secure the achievement of Palestinian demands … Israel must recognise the 1967 borders.”
Despite the fact that there is a huge mountain to climb, and that after so many failed round of peace talks many will be rightly sceptical over the chances of success this time around, succeeding in bringing to two side together for fresh talks will be seen as a minor victory for Mr Kerry. Kerry said on Friday that the deal between the two countries was still being ‘formalized’ and that he could not, therefore, release any further details.