Minister Yuval Steinitz
said Saturday that Israel
has agreed to release Palestinian prisoners as part of the new breakthrough
by US Secretary of State John Kerry
in efforts to restart Mideast talks.
Speaking at an event in Ramat Gan, Steinitz said that in line with Israeli demands, negotiations will resume without pre-conditions such as settlement construction freeze, talks based on 1967 borders and immediate release of prisoners.
He nevertheless admitted that Israel has agreed to release a limited number of prisoners at a later stage and as the talks progress, as a gesture to the Palestinians.
|Kerry announces resumption of talks (Video: Reuters)|
Meanwhile, defense officials said that the decision to release prisoners, including "hardcore prisoners," was coordinated with the defense establishment and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.
A state official stressed that it was decided that the prisoners will be released after the Palestinians prove they are serious about negotiations and contrary to the original Palestinian request. The prisoners will be released in phases. They are about 100 Palestinians who have been imprisoned for more than 20 years, from before the Oslo Accords.
Abbas in meeting with PLO leadership (Photo: Reuters)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
told Jordanian press Saturday that the Palestinians' preferred choice is to achieve statehood through negotiations and that they are not even considering the possibility of being part of Jordan, a proposal that was raised many years ago.
In an interview that will be published in full on Monday, Abbas stressed "We are one people living in two states and we've already ruled out the possibility of an alternative homeland, we shall not go back. There will be no Palestinian immigration to Jordan
under any circumstance."
Kerry in Ramallah (Photo: AFP)
Commenting on the division between Gaza and the West Bank, he said: "Palestinian legitimacy has started to disintegrate and that is why we must hold presidential and parliamentary elections."
Israeli party leaders and leaders in the international community welcomed the resumption of peace talks on Saturday.
Chairwoman Zahava Gal-On called it an opportunity that shouldn't be missed. "If Netanyahu negotiates on the basis of the Arab League's principles – land for peace and full normalization with Arab League states - and pursues concrete steps that will advance the end of the occupation he will have Meretz's backing in parliament," she stated.
Netanyahu's coalition. Will it survive? (Photo: Getty Images)
Finance Minister Yair Lapid
wrote on his Facebook page that his party Yesh Atid
has kept its electoral promise to restart the peace process.
"To the Left we say, we must be tough in negotiations. We're not looking for a happy marriage with the Palestinians, rather a fair divorce. To the Right we say, we must separate ourselves from the Palestinians, because a bi-national state is the end of Zionism," he wrote.
The international community also welcomed the move. EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton praised the "courage" of both sides.
"I warmly welcome today's announcement on the Middle East peace process," Ashton said in a statement. "Their demonstration of leadership gives me great hope that we may finally see progress towards the objectives which they share along with their friends and allies around the world: peace, security and dignity for their peoples."
The United Nations issued a statement called the resumption of talks a "positive development," but also urged both sides to "show leadership, courage, and responsibility to sustain this effort towards achieving the two-state vision."
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