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Palestinians Give Israel Until Tomorrow to Set Prisoner Release

By Jonathan Ferziger
March 30, 2014 4:19 AM EDT 408 Comments
The father of released Palestinian prisoner Hazem Shubeir holds a poster of his son prior to his arrival at his home in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on October 30, 2013.
Photographer: Said Khatib/AFP via Getty Images
The father of released Palestinian prisoner Hazem Shubeir holds a poster of his son prior to his arrival at his home in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on October 30, 2013.

Palestinians demanded Israel agree by tomorrow to approve an overdue release of Palestinian prisoners, a dispute that has jeopardized U.S.-sponsored peace talks.

If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to balk at freeing the last of 104 prisoners he agreed to release, Palestinian leaders will meet tomorrow on how to respond, Prisoner Affairs Minister Issa Qaraqi told Voice of Palestine radio today. Options include further efforts to pursue Palestinian statehood and sanctions against Israel for its occupation of land the Palestinians claim for a state.

“The last few days have witnessed intensive meetings to solve the issue,” Qaraqi told the radio station. “Until now we have not received any official response.” Israel blames the Palestinians for snags that have delayed the release, which was to have taken place yesterday.

Israel consented to the release of four rounds of prisoners convicted in attacks on Israelis to win Palestinian agreement to resume peace talks in July. Three releases have taken place, and Israel’s chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, said March 18 that freeing more prisoners depends on whether Palestinians ready to continue serious negotiations.

The nine months of talks the sides approved in July expire April 29, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he won’t negotiate beyond that date unless Israel agrees to the last release and freezes settlement construction, a demand Israel has rejected.

Kerry's Efforts

The tussle over the prisoners is hindering U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to tie up an agreement by April 29 on a framework for negotiations on a formal peace treaty, which has eluded the sides since talks began in 1993.

The American mediating team continues “to work intensively with both sides” on the release, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said yesterday.

Israel is hesitating over the release because the Palestinians have threatened to break off talks after April 29, according to an Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he isn’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly. Netanyahu’s cabinet, which meets today, is split on whether to free the last batch of prisoners.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan Ferziger in Tel Aviv at jferziger@bloomberg.net; Fadwa Hodali in Ramallah at fhodali@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net Amy Teibel, Alastair Reed

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